PROVO — For No. 25 BYU, roles have changed.
A week after knocking off then-No. 6 Wisconsin on the road, the Cougars now find themselves as the favored and ranked home team.
When McNeese State visits LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday (4 p.m., MDT, BYUtv), the Cowboys will try to beat the team that beat the Badgers.
“We took the target off Wisconsin and now the target’s on us,” said defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. “We believe they’ll be coming full steam ahead after us. We’ve got to be on top of our game this week.”
Truth is, McNeese State (3-0), from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and the Southland Conference, is also ranked — No. 10 in the FCS. The Cowboys have 16 FCS playoff appearances and are coming off a big win over Nicholls State.
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, the former offensive line coach at LSU, addressed the danger of “trap games” with his players early in the week. Besides, he knows how athletic and talented McNeese State is.
“I went through the list of FBS teams that they’ve either beaten or played very closely over the last 10 years. I showed them their statistics," Grimes said. "Then when you watch them on film it validates what I’m saying. First, it’s about us being the right kind of competitors. Secondly, it’s about having respect for your opponent, which we certainly do.”
McNeese State coach Lance Guidry respects BYU.
“They have a good football team. They’re hot right now and they’re not going to overlook us by any means,” he said. “(BYU coach Kalani Sitake) might be telling them about what we did to Nebraska years back. He’ll get his team ready to play for us for sure.”
McNeese State quarterback James Tabary has completed 54 of 74 passes for 694 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. Running back Justin Pratt averages 4.4 yards per carry.
“They’ve got a lot of good skills guys. They have a really good running back. They play with a lot of heart,” said BYU linebacker Zayne Anderson. “They’re going to want to beat us. We’re playing them like they’re Wisconsin.”
“They’ve got a big offensive line, a tough running back and excellent position players. That’s really typical of FCS and the Southland Conference,” said BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb. “They have a lot of speed down there. They have a lot of players who can run and catch.
"Their quarterback is accomplished. Defensively, they’ll be as athletic and fast in the front seven and secondary as anyone we’ve faced. Maybe the biggest compliment I can pay them is that this is a team that for decades, wins. It knows how to win. They’ve got a winning system.”
McNeese State’s defense is led by linebacker BJ Blunt, who has recorded 20 tackles, six tackles-for-loss and five sacks this season.
“He can play at a lot of places. He’s very fast and very physical,” Guidry said of Blunt. “He loves to play the game. He just keeps getting better and better. I think he’s the pulse of our entire team.”
Guidry added that his team and BYU are in similar situations.
“We’re both coming off of big games in our own rights,” he said. “But of course we’re playing up this week and they’re playing down. I don’t think they’ll overlook us. I don’t think their coach is going to allow that to happen.
"When they watch the film, they’re not going to have to sell to their players that we have athletes. They’ll be able to see that we do. I think we’ll get their best, I really do.”
Lamb, former head coach at Southern Utah, knows all about the mentality of FCS teams.
“When we knocked off FBS teams, typically it’s because they’re watching the size of our stadium or the color of our uniforms or how many stars we have in recruiting,” Lamb said. “Really, if you take most of these FCS teams and you put a Power 5 uniform on them, it’s hard to tell the difference, especially in the first unit that’s out on the field. You’ve got big, strong, fast guys that can play football.”
“They have a lot of great athletes. They have a great tradition on defense,” Grimes said. “They led their conference last year in a number of defensive categories last season, including rush defense. They play a fast, aggressive style of defense. I think it will be a challenge for us.”27 comments on this story
BYU offensive lineman Austin Hoyt said the transition from last week to this week won’t be “much of a difference” for him.
“McNeese State is a good program. They’ve got some big boys on the defensive line. For me, my mindset is preparing for it just like the Wisconsin game,” Hoyt said. “It’s going in and making sure we have focused, physical practices and getting ready for them just as if they were a top-10 opponent.”
Cougars on the air
McNeese State (3-0) at No. 25 BYU (2-1)
- Saturday, 4 p.m. MDT LaVell Edwards Stadium
- TV: BYUtv
- Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM