BEAUMONT, Texas – After two weeks on the road, the Lamar University football team is back in the Golden Triangle to face Nicholls in their Southland Conference home opener. The Cardinals return home looking to turn things around from a slow start to the 2017 campaign.
The Cardinals enter the week in a three-way tie for eighth place in the Southland Conference standings, but just a win back of fifth place. Big Red returns to Provost Umphrey Stadium having lost two straight, but both losses have fallen in the hard luck category.
The Cardinals were driving late down seven at Northwestern State only to have the drive end on an interception deep in Demon territory. LU started the game at Southeastern Louisiana forcing turnovers on the Lions’ first two possessions, including the opening kickoff, but found themselves down 14-0 midway through the first quarter. In both situations, the Cardinals were left trying to dig themselves out of a hole late in the game.
The Colonels (2-2/1-1 SLC) enter week five sitting in the middle of the standings tied with four other schools for fifth overall. High expectations have been placed on Nicholls who was ranked among the nation’s top 25 (STATS FCS top 25 poll) before last week’s loss to Sam Houston State. After winning two of their first three games, including a near upset at Texas A&M, Nicholls was turned away by No. 3 Sam Houston State, 66-17.
“Nicholls is a very good football team. They might just be the most talented team we’ve faced since North Texas,” said LU head coach Mike Schultz. “I think they are much better than what they played at Sam Houston. Nicholls is very balanced on offense. Their quarterback is the catalyst for their offense. Defensively, we have to keep him in check and not allow him to operate.
“In addition to their quarterback, they also have a couple of big receivers who are very elusive. They have a very physical running back who stands 6-0, 200-plus pounds. They don’t do as much as other teams, but what they do they do it extremely well,” added Schultz.
The Cardinals enter the game with the league’s third ranked offense averaging 447.8 yards per game. Ironically, Nicholls is surrendering 447.8 yards to opponents through the first four games of 2017.
The Red and White had been struggling with penalties through the first three games, but they appear to have turned the corner. The Cards were flagged just six times at Southeastern Louisiana.
“If you go by the numbers, we did better this past week going from 15 to six penalties,” said Schultz. “We improved but six is still way too many. We’re making improvements, but we have to continue to improve in that area. Our goal is to keep those in the low single digits. If you’re an aggressive team you will get some penalties. That is just part of the game. What you don’t want is to make as many mistakes as what we did at Northwestern State.”
Offensively, the Colonels rank sixth in the Southland in total offense (360.5 ypg), including 222 of those yards through the air. Although Nicholls doesn’t run the ball to the amount they did when LU first brought back football, they’re still efficient moving the ball on the ground (139 ypg). The Cardinals have struggled this season against the run surrendering 266 yards per game.
Junior Darrel Colbert jr., has completed 56 percent of his passes for 738 yards (eight touchdowns) and ranks among the nation’s leaders in points responsible for, but he is coming off a tough weekend in Hammond. Colbert was picked off three times last week by the Lions.
Sophomore Kendrick King still ranks among the Southland’s elite running backs. He is currently third in the league averaging 77 rushing yards per game.
Saturday will be the 10th meeting between the two schools in series history, and the Cardinals have had the upper hand in the series. Big Red owns a 6-3 (.667) record in the series, including a near perfect 4-1 (.800) mark at home. Recently, the series has swung in favor of Nicholls as they have won the past two meetings. Nicholls recorded its only victory in Beaumont during the 2015 season when the Red and White missed a 23-yard field goal with three seconds to fall, 30-28. The Colonels recorded consecutive wins for the first time in series history last season with a 35-10 win in Thibodaux.
Since the return of football, Provost Umphrey Stadium has been a tough place for opponents to play. Big Red is 24-18 (. 571) at home during that time, but struggled to a 2-4 (.333) mark last season. The Cardinals are 1-0 home this year.