Greetings, Lion fans. Well, the Blue Gang did it again. The rest of the Southland Conference and a crowded Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, Louisiana, found out what we already knew. That the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions can play well at this level, and that the Blue Gang Mentality is much like The Force in the Star Wars franchise.
The Lions currently lead the Southland in total defense, and are third in both passing and rushing defense, and are fourth in scoring defense. Defensive Coordinator Kyle Williams has picked up right where his predecessors left off and has embraced the Blue Gang traditions. This defensive unit is perfectly capable of keeping the Lions in any game, and, as they have in the past, win the occasional contest. .
Again, they bent, but did not break between the 20-yard lines with a very explosive Southeastern Louisiana offense, allowing only two sustained scoring drives, one of which came on a short field after a Lion turnover, and even that came with a bitter fight.
That, though, was last week, and another tough road challenge awaits. Let’s dive right in and take a look at our neighbors to the east, the McNeese State Cowboys.
Points: 19.6 ppg
Rush: 184.0 ypg
Pass: 141.0 ypg
Total 325.0 ypg
Blue Gang Defense:
Points: 18.2 ppg
Rush 134.0 ypg
Pass: 139.0 ypg
Total: 273.6 ypg
Turnovers : 8
The Cowboys have some speed and good offensive talent, but have been very prone to the turnover bug, suffering 6 interceptions so far this season, and, according to the stats available at this writing, an astounding 26 quarterback sacks. This certainly appears to be a part of the learning process under new head coach Gary Goff.
The Lion defense, while not having any eye-popping statistics in the sack department, have been able to generate good pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary has made opponents think twice about coming across the middle. .
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE:
Cowboys Offensive LIne: 6’3″ 303 lbs.
Blue Gang Front Six: 6’1″ 247 lbs.
The Cowboys have a young and inexperienced front but are anchored by senior Calving Barkat (6’3″ 290 lbs.), and sophomore Hezekei Neason (6’4″ 323 lbs.). McNeese has plenty of size but are plagued by inexperience.
The Lion defense, despite missing senior Ben Hutch (6’4″ 293 lbs.) again last week due to injury, have continued to dominate, led by senior Celestin Haba (6’2″ 250 lbs.), sophomore Bryson Stewart (6’0″ 269 lbs.), and fellow sophomore Clifford Funderburk (6’2″ 235 lbs.). In addition to generating pressure, their play has allowed senior linebackers Dee Walker (6’2″ 224 lbs,) and Michael Noble (6’2″ 216 lbs.) to make plays from sideline to sideline, as evidenced by Walker’s 27 tackles (10 solo) and Noble’s 28 (15 solo). This is a disruptive group that feeds off the energy of each other.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:
Cowboys Movers and Shakers: 5’11” 188 lbs.
Blue Gang Back Line: 5’10” 174 lbs.
The Cowboys offense is directed by sophomore Knox Kadum (6’1″ 200 lbs.) who is 56-109, a 132.0 yards per game average, 3 touchdowns, a long of 66 yards, and has thrown 6 interceptions. The rushing attack is led by senior Deonta McMahon (5’9″ 185 lbs., Sr.) who has a 98.3 yards per game average on 58 attempts, 3 touchdowns, and a long of 62 yards. Senior D’Angelo Durham (6’1″ 200 lbs.) has 85 yards on 35 carries, 3 touchdowns, and a long of 75 yards. McMahon is also a threat out of the backfield on pass plays, with 8 catches for 76 yards, and a long of 30 yards.
The receiving corps is led by redshirt sophomore Mason Pierce (5’7″ 152 lbs.), who has 24 receptions for 252 yards, a touchdown, and a long of 27 yards. Senior Josh Matthews (6’2″ 200 lbs.) has 10 receptions for 170 yards, a touchdown, and a long of 70 yards.
The back line of the Blue Gang is led by senior Darius Williams (5’7″ 189 lbs.) who has 36 tackles (26 solo), and junior Dariyon Taylor (5’10” 158 lbs.), who has 29 tackles (16 solo). Sophomore Jordan Polk (5’11” 177 lbs.), sophomore Maxwell Epps (5’11” 189 lbs.), and sophomore Kendall Paul (5’8″ 157 lbs.) round out this group, that while not having that statistics that would garner a lot of attention, have done a very good job in coverage, and as describes a physical, punishing style of play, “bring the wood.”
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED: Sophomore Callum Eddings (5’11” 160 lbs.), is the punter for McNeese, averaging a solid 39.05 yards per punt, with a long of 53 yards. Freshman Garrison Smith (5’10” 150 lbs.) is a perfect 10 of 10 on extra points, as well as 6 of 7 on field goals, with a long of 47 yards. He has a strong and accurate leg.
The Lion return game seems to be sitting on a powder keg, ready to explode, but just hasn’t caught the right spark just yet. Senior B.J. Busbee has 8 punt returns for a 11.75-yard average, with a long of 27 yards. Freshman Sean Krystoff-King (5’9″ 178 lbs.) has started to make his presence felt on kickoff returns, with 4 for a 24.0-yard average, as teams have begun to avoid senior speedster J.T .Smith, who has 2 returns for a 26.0-yard average, with a long of 40 yards.
THE LIONS CAN WIN THIS MATCHUP IF: They don’t overlook McNeese and fall into the trap of resting on their laurels. McNeese may be 1-4, but they are still a solid D1 FCS team still in the learning curve with a very good coach in Gary Goff who knows how to win. The Cowboys have shown a tendency to turn the ball over, so it will be vital for the Lions to be able to generate pressure with the front four. Keep Kadum uncomfortable in the pocket, as he has been prone to throw the interception.
Defensively, the Cowboys have been susceptible to the run, which bodes very well for the Lions. If they are able to have success in the run game, the Cowboy defense will be forced to bring a safety or two down close, which will open up just the space Andrew Armstrong and company needs to continue torching opposing defensive backfields.
These Lions are a fun and exciting young team to watch, fans. Be sure and make the trip east or relax in front of the television watching on ESPN +, or catch the delightful tones of Charlie Chitwood and Brock Callaway on KETR. They’re the best out there.
See You Saturday.