BEAUMONT, Texas – Rivalry week has arrived in Beaumont which has the Lamar University Cardinals (3-7/3-5 Southland) preparing for the Battle of the Border against McNeese. The 2016 version of the rivalry has LU traveling to Lake Charles, La. looking to put an end to a four-game skid and end the season on a high note. The Cardinals have dropped four consecutive games heading into the contest and fallen from the upper echelon of the Southland standings into a three-way tie for sixth.
The Cowboys (5-5/4-4 SLC) are fifth in the conference standings just a game back of Nicholls in the loss column entering the regular-season finale. It has been a roller-coaster of a season for the Cowboys who enter Saturday's contest winners in two of their last three but coming off a 13-point setback at No. 1 Sam Houston State.
The LU squad that will be traveling over to Lake Charles for Saturday's rivalry game looks nothing like what was expected to be in the starting lineup when the season began. Injuries have overwhelmed the starting lineup knocking out the top four quarterbacks, forcing the Cards to burn two redshirts at the position, and leaving them with one healthy signal caller on the roster (Adam Morse). Injuries also cut short the senior campaigns of two preseason All-Americans and a third preseason All-Southland selection. Those injuries have effected all three phases of the game.
Since taking over as the starting quarterback, Morse has completed nearly 54 percent of his passes for 471 yards and three touchdowns. Morse's favorite targets have been sophomore Zae Giles and transfer DeWan Thompson. Giles has hauled in 49 passes for 471 yards and four touchdowns, while Thompson has made 29 grabs for 400 yards and four scores.
The Cowboys enter Saturday ranked among the league's top four in scoring offense, total offense and pass offense but have struggled at times moving the ball on the ground. McNeese is ranked ninth in the Southland averaging 130 rush yards per game, which could bode well for a Cardinals team that has struggled to slow down the run game at times this season. LU has surrendered 215.2 yards per game during the 2016 campaign.
“McNeese has had to reinvent itself this season,” said LU head coach Ray Woodard. “Last year they won the league as more of a running team that made great plays on defense, but now they're more of a throwing team. They are still a very good football team but it is a very different team than what we've had to prepare for in years past.”
McNeese and LU bring different strengths into the game defensively. The Cowboys are second in the league against the run surrendering less than 123 yards per game, while the Cardinals have been able to lock up opponents passing attacks. Big Red has held opponents to 190 passing yards per game this season, and is the only Southland school to hold teams to fewer than 200 pass yards per game. The Cardinals also lead the league with 12 interceptions on the year.
“Regardless of the records, this is still a very big game – rivalry games always are,” said Woodard. “Both teams want to close the season with a win. We beat them at their place two years ago and you can believe that has been brought up to their players every day this week. I'm excited about heading back over to play them. For me, it is always like a homecoming.”
Senior Brendan Langley – the reigning Southland Special Teams Player of the Week – has picked off six passes this season, and needs only one more interception to tie a school record for picks in a season. Langley had a huge impact in last week's game returning two punts for scores. He scored two of the team's three special teams touchdowns against Incarnate Word.
The Cardinals have struggled in the all-time series against McNeese. The Cowboys lead the all-time series, 24-9-1 (.721), which includes a 10-5 (.667) record for McNeese in Lake Charles but Big Red enters Saturday looking for its second consecutive win in Cowboy Stadium. In 2014, then sophomore kicker Juan Carranco booted a 23-yard field goal as time expired to hand the Cardinals their first win over McNeese since bringing back the program.
Saturday's game is slated to kick off at 6 p.m. from Cowboy Stadium.