HAMMOND - Southeastern Louisiana University’s 48-27 loss to McNeese State isn’t sitting well with Lions coach Mike Lucas, but at the same time, he also knows there’s still a lot of football left to play.
And that starts with SLU’s home Southland Conference opener with Lamar (2-1). Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Strawberry Stadium and will be broadcast on the Southland Conference Television Network (WBTR, Cable Channel 19 in Baton Rouge).
“It was really difficult on me losing that football game,” Lucas said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon on the SLU campus. “You guys have heard me say this over and over and over again: We’ve got to get over the hump here. We’re 1-3. We can still be 8-3, but to be that, we’ve got to be 2-3, so we’ve got to get focused this week on what we’re doing.”
One key concern for Lucas is SLU’s (1-3, 0-1) play on special teams after the Lions surrendered an average of 30.2 yards on five kickoff returns against McNeese.
SLU punter Beau Mothe also had five punts for a 34.6-yard average, but one of those punts went 18 yards and led to McNeese’s first touchdown and a 10-0 Cowboy lead.
“I think we really dug ourselves a hole early in the game because of special teams with our kickoff return unit and some very poor punting,” Lucas said. “It created short fields for McNeese and long fields for us, and I think that had a huge impact on the football game field-position-wise and therefore, points-wise.
“McNeese always is very athletic and very fast on their special team units, and we thought going in we had the right people in the right place, and apparently we didn’t. So we’ve got some things we’ve got to shore up on all those units - those kickoff returns and our punt team.”
And Lucas said that could lead to some personnel changes.
“If we’ve got to play our starting 11 on defense on the kickoff units, then we’ve got to do it,” Lucas said. “We’re trying to get some guys that are scholarship guys that are twos (second-stringers) in some areas where they ought to be able to help, and (they’re) not getting it done.”
After playing quarterbacks Brian Young and Nathan Stanley in the Lions’ first three games, Lucas opted to stick exclusively with Young against McNeese. Young went 22-for-43 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We felt coming out of the Southern Miss game that Brian was the one that would give us the best chance of winning at McNeese,” Lucas said on the SLC teleconference on Tuesday. “As far as the reads and decisions and things like that, he was doing much better. Nathan’s still coming along. He’s still getting better. We’re going to practice them both this week.
“Looking back, hindsight, late in the game last week, we should have got Nathan in as we were behind by so many points and throwing the football a bunch to try to get back in it because that’s Nathan’s strong suit. So we’ll see how practice goes this week.”
The Lions are dealing with a rash of ankle injuries to starting defensive end Frank Bryant, starting cornerback Todd Washington and linebackers Kaleb Muse and Drew Misita.
“It’s the year of the ankle,” Lucas said. “Those things kind of run in cycles.”
Lucas said Bryant, Washington and Muse are questionable for Saturday’s game, while Misita is out.
Additionally, Lucas said starting linebacker Avery Crooks must pass a concussion test by Wednesday in order to play Saturday after being knocked unconscious against McNeese.
Lucas is still concerned over the Lions’ problems creating turnovers this season. Keiron Jones has SLU’s only interception, while Michael Chaney has the team’s only fumble recovery.
“Here’s what I’ve said to the kids, when you’re playing with young guys their first time out there in a lot of these situations, number one, they’ve got to get to the right place at the right time,” Lucas said. “Number two, they have to make the tackle when they get there. Number three, then strip the ball out. Some of our guys are still working on number one and number two and we haven’t advanced to number three.”
Lucas said the Lions’ lack of interceptions is likely a by-product of SLU’s cornerbacks playing more man-to-man coverage this season.
“Man coverage sometimes lends itself to not as many interceptions and more pass break-ups or maybe the ball not being thrown because you’re tighter,” Lucas said. “The interceptions have to come from our safety position and not from the corners because the corners are going to have their backs turned in coverage.”