Southeastern Louisiana has been in a struggle to get a handle on its season. The Lions can do it this week if it can win the battle against a control-freak opponent.
After an 0-3 start, SLU (3-4, 3-2 in Southland Conference) can even its record Saturday against Abilene Christian (3-4, 2-3) at 7 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium.
The opportunities to score may be limited for the Lions. The Wildcats lead the conference in time of possession (32:47 per game) and are especially effective on third down on both sides of the ball. ACU converts 40.3 of its third-down tries (48 of 119), which is third in the conference. On defense, opponents are successful just 30.2 percent of the time (29 of 96) second behind Sam Houston State (30.1).
“They get you off the field early and stay on it a long time,” SLU coach Frank Scelfo said. “We can’t allow that to happen.”
If the stats aren’t impressive enough, the Wildcats’ results are. They knocked off No. 11 Nicholls State last week (28-12) and played No. 6 McNeese close (24-21) in a loss the week before. Neither a conference nor a national powerhouse, Scelfo said his next opponent is as good as any his team will face.
“They are coming into their own,” he said. “They have good players, a good scheme, they’re well coached. There’s nobody easy where you throw your hat out there and win.”
ACU’s control game uses the pass twice as much as the run, depending on stacks and bunch sets to to implement a horizontal passing game. The Lions will answer with an improved running game, which facilitates some control of their own.
The Lions rushed for a season-high 184 yards last week to beat Houston Baptist. Darren Johnson had 127 yards and a TD and Julius Maracalin added 69 yards in his first action of the season. His return might help balance the Lions offense for the remainder of the season.
“It was good to get him back,” Scelfo said of Maracalin. “He brought some physicality to our run game. DJ did that also. I thought they were booing (Maracalin) but they were yelling ‘Juice.' He’s starting to come into his own and get healthy.”
Johnson said the SLU running game is improving because the offensive unit is playing better together. His total was a season high after rushing for 571 yards last season.
“It was my best game this year,” he said. “We ran a lot of counters and stretch plays that opened up the box.
“We are running more downhill. Last year we used a lot more option and inside zone. It’s different. I like the scheme this year.”
The offensive line is also creating more space for the backs. It got a big boost from Georgia transfer Pat Allen, who joined the program in May and starts at left tackle. Better communication up front and more physicality came after the offense had a players only meeting.
“I feel as long as we stay focused on us and not the outside noise, and stay invested and focused on each other, we can do something special for the rest of the season,” Allen said. “I’m not saying we’re going to beat everybody but just work our butts off every day.”