HAMMOND - If Southeastern Louisiana University football coach Mike Lucas had his way, the Lions would have played a game last week in the wake of 48-38 loss to Lamar on Oct. 1. But that’s not the way SLU’s schedule panned out.

Instead, Lucas and the Lions had an open date to stew over the loss and prepare for Saturday’s 6 p.m. Southland Conferene game at Northwestern State (3-3, 2-1).

“I would have much rather played last week,” Lucas said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon on the SLU campus. “Sitting on that Lamar loss is driving me crazy - still having nightmares. We’re sitting here at 1-4, and it’s not very much fun. As hard as we work and all the time we put into it and the recruiting we do and the film study, you search for so many reasons.

“We need to play again. Sitting at home Saturday watching other people play was not any fun.”

But Lucas said the Lions (1-4, 0-2) had “a productive week,” taking time to “self-scout” the team’s offensive and defensive tendencies. The Lions also focused on correcting problems related to big plays surrendered by the SLU defense.

“We worked very hard on our tackling last week,” Lucas said. “Of the big plays we gave up, I think 22 of them were missed tackle situations. Again, we work on tackling every day. Last week, each position group had to come to me and work tackling with me. (We) tried to give it a little different emphasis on the importance of doing it the correct way.”

Injury update

Lucas said starting linebacker Avery Crooks (concussion), starting defensive end Frank Bryant (ankle), linebackers Kaleb Muse and Drew Misita (ankles) have returned to practice.

Cornerback Todd Washington (ankle) started against Lamar and finished with two tackles.

Defensive tackle Devin Boutwell (stinger) is doubtful for Saturday’s game, with Jonathan Kinchen expected to see increased playing time in Boutwell’s absence.

Safety struggles

The Lions began the season with East Mississippi Community College transfer Kevin Roberts starting at free safety and freshman Marice Sutton (New Mexico Prep/St. Augustine-New Orleans) at strong safety.

But in the Lions’ past two games, freshman Tyler Stoddard has started at strong safety alongside Roberts. Stoddard tops the depth chart at strong safety heading into the Northwestern State game.

“We’re trying to find the right combination there,” Lucas said. “We had hoped that the two transfer guys would step up and play well. I’d probably give them a below-average grade right now. You would hope at safety play you could say, ?I’ve got guys who play the pass really well, (but) they’re not very good against the run’ or you could say, ?I’ve got guys that really come up against the run, but they’re not great in coverage.’ We’re kind of in neither one of those categories right now, so that’s why Tyler Stoddard’s playing as a true freshman.

“We’re trying to get Gio Dent in, but he’s another true freshman. At that free safety position, it’s tough to put somebody back there because one mistake, and the fight song’s playing for the other team.”

Kick it around

Heading into the Lamar game, Lucas said the Lions would be making some changes on their special teams units. One of those changes was at punter, where Matt McCormick took over for Beau Mothe. McCormick responded with four punts for a 44.8-yard average against the Cardinals.

“Matt has always been a guy that can boom a punt,” Lucas said. “His problem has always been he’s been a little slow, because we want to get that punt out under 2.0 (seconds) every time. He’s worked on that and sped up that timing. He’s going to give you more distance and more hang time. I was proud of the way he played and did a good job and had a good week of practice again last week getting a little confidence. As long as he can keep that snap-to-kick time under 2.0, he’ll be the guy.”