September 24, 2009

Engaging the Enemy: McNeese State

Every week, The Wave Report gains the perspective of Tulane's opponent by talking with someone who covers the team. This week, we pick the brain of Alex Hickey, McNeese State's beat writer for The American Press (Lake Charles, La.), to gain some inside knowledge on the FCS powerhouse Cowboys.

The Wave Report: How big are these opportunities for McNeese State when they get a chance to play against FBS schools? It's obviously a shot at getting some respect from the other division, but is it looked at in the same light as a major conference game would be?

Alex Hickey:
It doesn't mean as much in the standings as a Southland Conference game, but for the fans there is nothing bigger than games like this. Coach Matt Viator noted that more fans were asking him questions in the offseason about this game than the game against Appalachian State.

People around here have a lot of pride in the McNeese program and for the FCS in general that is shared with a sense of slight contempt for those who have left the division for greener pastures (particularly Louisiana-Lafayette). They'd rather have a chance to compete for a national title and give a good shot at a FBS opponent once a year for something to crow about. Behind the ULL game in 2007 that renewed an an ancient rivalry, this is probably the most excitement that a regular-season game has generated for McNeese at this point in history.

TWR: A slow start against a Division II school made things look shaky coming out of the gate, but a win in Boone over Appalachian St. then a laugher over Savannah St. makes this Cowboys team look like a championship contener. Which one do you think is closer to truth, the first game or the last two?

I think the Henderson State game was more of an anomaly. Funny things tend to happen in Week 1 all over college football, and this was one of them. McNeese was preparing for a team that would strictly run the spread and throw the ball all over, and Henderson State came in and shocked everyone by trying to pound the ball down McNeese's throat -- which they did for the better part of three quarters.

I think that close call served as somewhat of a wakeup for this team, which has looked like an entirely different squad in the following two weeks.

TWR: Tulane is coming off two very poor performances and has looked inept in a number of areas, what phase of the game will McNeese focus on or are they a more balanced attack?

McNeese has a fairly diverse attack, and can usually run or pass at will against teams at this level. The main cog is running back Toddrick Pendland, who is utilized in a similar fashion that the Chicago Bears used former Greenie Matt Forte last season -- running or passing, he's typically the main ingredient, and it shows as he leads the nation in scoring. Quaterback Derrick Fourroux is very mobile, and does a good job of distributing the ball amongst all of his receivers.

Defensively, McNeese will have to focus on stopping the run. With its size advantage along the line and a good running back in Andre Anderson, this will be the area Tulane has to try and exploit if it's going to win.

TWR: Former Green Wave linebacker Devin Holland transfered to MSU between seasons. How has he performed and have you spoken to him about coming back to play his former school?

Holland has not started, which is certainly a surprise, but he's played fairly well when he's gotten on the field. McNeese subs guys in and out fairly regularly on defense. He had six tackles against App State and picked up a sack on a blitz against Savannah State to go with three other tackles. Needless to say, he's pretty excited about this game and has been engaged in the expected friendly trash-talk with some former teammates.

TWR: We've heard estimates anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 folks from McNeese State will make their way into the Superdome. How well do you think the Cowboy fans will travel for this game?

Expect no less than 10,000 Cowboy fans -- many of whom will be armed with cowbells -- to enter the Dome. Bob Toledo anticipates that McNeese will actually outdraw Tulane. 13,910 fans were at the last McNeese home game, and there's a chance that number could be approached Saturday. Several thousand of these fans figure to be intent on investigating the rumor that the New Orleans nightlife has slightly more to offer than Lake Charles.

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