While the Southern Jaguars are eager to start the season and pick up where they left off in 2018, the excitement for McNeese State has a different take.
The Cowboys are like the person with a new car and ready to take it for a spin.
The two teams collide in their season opener at Cowboy Stadium at 6 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and Cox Sports TV.
First-year coach Sterlin Gilbert has overhauled a more conservative Cowboy offense and installed a spread attack. There are some defensive changes under new coordinator Jim Gush. But there has also been a surge in interest in what the fans will see when the curtain is lifted.
“It’s been a great transition,” junior quarterback Cody Orgeron, son of LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, said. “It’s more fast paced, high energy. They’re changing stuff around the field house. It’s whole new vibe. Everybody has bought into it and are loving it. It’s a new breath for us.
“All around campus there’s a lot of energy ready to see the new Cowboys. Coach Gilbert has brought everyone in on it.”
Gilbert first sought to instill a family approach to build team unity, an attitude he said his team has embraced. Now the “light at the end of the tunnel is here” and the anticipation is palpable throughout the program.
“I’m excited about what our players have done since we’ve been here,” said Gilbert, who was offensive coordinator the past two seasons at South Florida and at Texas before that. “Also, our staff and the work that’s been put into what the moment will be on Saturday. It’s a great opportunity to be able to start right here at home in front of our fans and community. That’s a big deal. (We’re) excited about the environment our kids will play in front of.”
Gilbert stepped in for a program that faltered at the end of last season from 5-1 to a 6-5 finish. But it’s not a program unaccustomed to winning. The Cowboys were 9-2 two seasons ago and have won 14 Southland Conference titles and made 16 playoff appearances.
Gilbert is upgrading and updating. The Cowboys have been oriented around defense and running the ball. That’s going to change on Saturday’s first snap.
Orgeron is happy about that. The spread fits his skills as a dual threat quarterback. He started only three games last year and passed for 406 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 148 and one score.
“It reminds me of my senior year in high school,” he said. “Run-pass options, fast tempo offense and scoring a lot of points.
“The transition has been smooth. I got into the film room with him to learn the system, same with the wide receivers, running backs and offensive line. Everyone bought in, put all their marbles in for Coach Gilbert. We’ve progressed through the spring summer and fall camp.”
The changes on defense haven’t been quite as stark, although the Cowboys will be in more of a three-man front rather than a four. One thing hasn’t changed: Chris Livings will get after the quarterback.
Living’s had eight sacks last year and 20½ in his career. He said the defensive transition was seamless and all that remains is to kick off the season.
“We’re eager to see how we are against another opponent,” he said. “We have shown improvement every day in fall camp. It’s new coaches and whole new system. The returning players have taken well and the newcomers, too.”