HAMMOND — In the aftermath of Southeastern Louisiana’s earliest defeat in Southland Conference play under fourth-year coach Ron Roberts — 21-7 setback at McNeese State — there was plenty of blame to go around.
The culpability, Roberts said, didn’t lay strictly at the cleats of the players.
“Our guys owned it and accepted the challenge,” Roberts said. “It’s not all on the kids; it’s on the coaches too. We’ve got to put some players in position to make plays, give them better opportunities to make plays. What could we have done to change things to impact that game in a different way, from the preparation to actual game calls in the game?”
The team’s Sunday meeting also represented the line of demarcation, turning their attention to Saturday night’s homecoming encounter where No. 21 Southeastern (3-2, 2-1) hosts Stephen F. Austin (1-5, 1-3) in SLC action at Strawberry Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Fox College Sports will televise the game live.
“Hopefully, there’s a sense of urgency,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to go into a playoff mode. One more (loss) and you’re sitting at home. We’ve got to take it one game at a time and the most important one is SFA.”
Two-time defending SLC champion Southeastern dropped out of a three-way tie for the league’s lead, falling a game back of co-leaders McNeese (5-0, 4-0) and Central Arkansas (3-2, 3-0), who meet in Conway, Arkansas, on Saturday.
“We’re excited to come in this week and bounce back and put together a great game,” SLU senior guard Jose Miranda said. “We know what we did wrong and we’ve learned from our mistakes.”
SLU lost its grip on the league’s top rushing attack, falling to fifth after McNeese limited the Lions, who averaged 252 yards a game, to a season-low 59 yards on 28 carries.
The Lions will look to re-establish the line of scrimmage to pave the way for leading rushers Xavier Roberson (54-255, three TDs) and Kody Sutton (66-205, three TDs).
One hurdle SLU’s offense has to get past for the remainder of the year is the loss of versatile wide receiver Jeff Smiley to a season-ending knee injury. Not only did Smiley lead the team in receiving (16-213, two TDs), but was also involved in the running game (15-117, TD).
Junior William French (9-130), senior Isaiah Kepley and freshman Jake Ingraffia will all be counted on to fill Smiley’s void, Roberts said.
Stephen F. Austin ended its winless start to the season, rallying from a 10-point deficit in the final 10 minutes of play to nip Nicholls State 28-24 with 26 seconds remaining last week.
The Lumberjacks endured single-digit losses to Northern Arizona (34-28), Abilene Christian (35-32) and Sam Houston State (34-28). They were also handed a 70-7 defeat at TCU.
“They’re not coming in here as a beat-down 1-5 team,” Roberts said. “They’re playing extremely hard and got a shot in the arm with a ‘W’ last week, so they’re trying to get back on track and make their dreams come alive.”
SFA features Loren Easly, the SLC’s second-leading rusher, with 71 carries for 511 yards and three TDs, while 6-foot-7 junior quarterback Zach Conque, the son of SFA coach and Baton Rouge-native Clint Conque, has completed 60 percent of his passes for 926 yards and seven TDs.
“Being at home will help us get the excitement back and let the guys know it’s not over and that we can still do this,” SLU safety Ryan Sigers said. “(McNeese) was one game. We have to worry about Stephen F. Austin.”