HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana played perhaps its best game of the season in a 49-20 walloping of Northwestern State last Saturday.
Behind a 28-point second quarter, the Lions raced out to a 42-13 lead at halftime and never looked back. The offense was balanced, with 294 rushing yards and 286 passing yards, and penalties (seven) and turnovers (one) were minimal.
It’s a significant improvement after an 0-3 start, but Lions coach Ron Roberts said there’s still work to do as Southeastern (2-3) hosts Incarnate Word (0-4) at 10 a.m. Saturday for homecoming at Strawberry Stadium.
“We still could play a lot better. Our guys notice it, they see it,” Roberts said. “They see it on film. We have not reached our potential yet, so we’re still trying to work toward that and see how good we can be as a football team.”
The Lions are riding high with back-to-back victories following that winless start.
After posting 514 total yards in a 51-48 opening loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, Southeastern’s offense sputtered for the next two games, collecting only 291 yards against Bethune-Cookman and 279 versus Central Arkansas. But in their two-game winning streak, the Lions have posted 513 total yards against Lamar and 580 against Northwestern State.
“We definitely came out and eliminated a lot of little things, a lot of mistakes that hurt us in the past,” running back Darren Johnson said. “We definitely increased our effort. We definitely brought a lot more energy to this game.”
Facing 0-4 Incarnate Word seems like the right recipe to continue the Lions’ momentum. The Cardinals’ offense averages only 272.5 yards per game, and their defense is last in the conference, surrendering 486 yards a contest.
But Roberts insisted the Cardinals’ record is the scariest thing about them.
“It’s always scary anytime you face somebody that’s 0-4 and their backs are against the wall,” he said. “There’s no telling what you’re going to get schematically. Are they going to change some things trying to get a spark? Are they going to do something defensively? Are they going to do that something we haven’t seen on offense yet? … We’ve got to kind of be prepared for everything.”
If there’s anything that Southeastern knows it has to prepare for, it’s Incarnate Word’s rushing defense.
The Cardinals give up a whopping 356 yards per game through the air but are second in the Southland Conference in stopping the run at 130 yards per game — though they’ve allowed 13 rushing touchdowns. Southeastern, meanwhile, has the conference’s best rushing offense, gaining 279.2 yards a contest.
Roberts said Incarnate Word tends to load up the box to stop the run, which means stretching the field will be imperative.
“We’ve got to come out there and find ways to run the football,” he said. “We’re going to have to throw the football to get them to back up.”
What could help the Lions stretch the field is a healthy Lorenzo Nunez.
The sophomore quarterback sprained his MCL against Louisiana-Lafayette and missed the Bethune-Cookman game, then rotated in and out versus Central Arkansas and Lamar. Finally back at full strength, Nunez completed 8 of 11 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern State.
“He’s an experienced guy back there that can be a dual threat,” Roberts said. “He can run, he can throw, he can run our offense at a high level.”