Tom Smart, Deseret News
OGDEN — Growing up in an era when kids sometimes decided to settle their differences "behind the shops" after school, we often heard this question:
"Why don't you pick on somebody your own size?"
Well, Weber State's football team, after getting slapped around on the road by a couple of "big boys" — Fresno State and BYU — from the Football Bowl Subdivision, finally gets to turn that age-old question around and "pick on somebody its own size" Saturday evening when the Wildcats take on a tough customer from McNeese State.
Indeed, just because McNeese State is a Football Championship Subdivision program like Weber State, it doesn't mean the visiting Cowboys are going to be a pushover in WSU's 2012 home-opener.
Far from it, in fact, as the Cowboys from Lake Charles, La., are off to a strong 2-0 start and are ranked No. 19 in the latest FCS poll.
"I like where we are; I think we've got some callous to us," WSU interim head coach Jody Sears said following last week's 45-13 loss at BYU. "I think we've got some guys who are craving some contact. And they're not afraid to shy away from being tough and getting into those tough environments and playing and getting after it and getting downhill and putting their face on people.
"I like where we are from a toughness standpoint, but by no means are we where we need to be. No question, we've got to continue to build and get better. … We know that the past doesn't equal the future. What we did well this week or last week, we've got to build on those things. By no means just because McNeese is an FCS school can we back off, there's no way.
"We are excited to be home and play in front of our home crowd this week," Sears said. "McNeese State is a very skilled and mature team and will be a tough test for us. We have to stay with our game plan and focus on the things we can control."
One thing the Wildcats must try to control is McNeese State's potent offense, which ranks 7th in FCS football in scoring, with an average of 48 points per game — thanks to a 69-7 rout of Division III foe McMurray last week. The Cowboys are averaging 290 yards rushing per game (8th nationally) and 467 yards of total offense (11th-best in the FCS). McNeese State's defense has been stellar, too, allowing just 14 points per game (20th in the nation) and just 50 yards rushing per game (7th in the nation).
And as you might expect, after going up against a pair of FBS opponents, Weber State's season statistics have taken a beating thus far. The Wildcats rank near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference in scoring (11.5 ppg), scoring defense (allowing 41 ppg), rushing offense and defense, passing defense, and total offense and defense.
They're hoping, though, that a return to their home turf, where the Wildcats are 37-13 all-time in home-openers and have won four straight, and matching up against somebody who's a little more their same size and strength will make a difference where it counts most — in the win column.
"We've got to continue to grow," Sears said. "Win or lose these first two games, they can't define our season. We've got good leadership, we've got some good character, we've got some grit to us.
"We've got to continue to callous 'em up and keep moving forward and keep playing good football. … We've got to keep grinding and keep moving forward."
Since it's the home-opener, Saturday night's contest will be the annual Blackout Game with 5,000 black T-shirts being distributed to fans attending the game, courtesy of America First Credit Union. Fans can also get four complimentary tickets by showing their AFCU credit or debit card at the WSU ticket office. In addition, players and coaches from the Wasatch Front Football League will receive complimentary tickets to tonight's game.
New this year for all WSU home games will be the Wildcat Walk, which will take place two hours prior to kickoff and will feature Weber State players and coaches walking from the lower campus up to the stadium. Also, the Weber State Waldo mascot has received a makeover and will be unveiled prior to Saturday night's kickoff.
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