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Football Gold
8/6/2018 10:49:40 AM
Football Gold

It’s almost here . . . Game Day! Football fans across the state are gearing up for tailgating parties, football festivities, and the countdown to kick-off. So pull out your team jerseys, dust off the grill, and shake out your pom-poms. In our annual Football Gold section, you’ll find updates and schedules on your favorite Louisiana teams.

McNeese Cowboys Drive into their 2018 Season
by Tom Hoefer

The 2017 Pokes went 9-2 and missed the FCS playoffs. That seemingly unthinkable scenario played out as the Cowboys lost their only two games against other Southland Conference playoff contenders and the selection committee sent them home for Thanksgiving.

Early season defensive lapses contributed to the opening loss at Nicholls and some less-than-cowboy-like wins against non-conference foes. But by mid-season, the Defense With Attitude (DWA) was in full control, setting conference and national records for run-stopping stinginess and leading the pokes to the excellent 9-2 overall mark, with a dispiriting loss at Conference Champion Central Arkansas the only further blemish.

High-energy second-year coach Lance Guidry had assumed the Defensive Coordinator role and his aggressive style paid dividends. Guidry stays as the DC in his third season and he has several holes to patch from last year’s squad, but maintains his 2018 group will be faster than last year’s edition of DWA.

Six starters return, including linebacker BJ Blount, the only Cowboy defender chosen to the SLC Pre-Season first team. The Senior from New Orleans transitioned to LB from safety mid-year in 2017 and anchors the DWA. Junior defensive end Chris Livings is expected to lead the pass rush, the Lake Charles native returning from an injury-truncated 2017. Sophomore cornerback Darion Dunn impressed enough in half a season last year to be named to the pre-season second team. Colby Burton joins Dunn as leaders of the defensive backfield that lost four seniors from the 2017 squad.

The Pokes offense had some struggles in 2017 after the breakout season of quarterback James Tabary the previous year, squeaking out wins against Abilene Christian, SLU and Lamar in low-scoring affairs. The offensive line was inconsistent, forcing Tabary into too many difficult spots, and opening fewer holes for the rushing game.
Converted tailback Lawayne Ross emerged as a star last year, reluctantly. Guidry appealed to the bruising back by promising he’d see the field on almost every play and that he would only have to run over defensive backs instead of linemen and linebackers.  

Tabary has been selected as the second team Pre-Season All-Conference QB. Ross and tailback David Hamm were tabbed first-teamers. Hamm and Justin Pratt will be joined by Ryan Ross who returns after missing 2017 with an injury in a loaded tailback squad.
The line hopes for more consistency led by 2nd-team All SLC tackle Grant Burguillos. The Junior from Mandeville is joined by returners Tyrae Johnson, Kyle Zenon, and Jimmy Converse. The Pokes sought some off-season reinforcements for depth from the Junior College ranks.

The Pokes lost four senior receivers from last year’s squad. Parker Orgeron should see lots of targets while some youngsters battle for playing time at the receiver position.

McNeese is picked fourth in the conference by most of the experts. The schedule in 2018 is slightly more favorable in the conference, as likely top-tier foes Nicholls and Central Arkansas will travel to Lake Charles this year. The Cowboys do not play Sam Houston State again, which helped muddy the waters in determining the at-large playoff bids in 2017. Early non-conference trips out west to Northern Colorado and Brigham Young will be challenges.  

It’s hard to believe that Lance Guidry is only the second-best Louisiana Division One coach at using the Cajun vernacular. That title belongs in Baton Rouge, for now.  But no coach matches his enthusiasm, energy, and infectious personality – a tremendous motivator for the Cowboy squad and a huge bonus when recruiting the area. Guidry was sought-after by Florida State for a defensive back position on Willie Taggart’s staff during the off-season but elected to stay home, much to the relief of Cowboy nation. It would be no surprise if his third season is his best yet as Cowboy Head Coach.

9/1 | 3:05 pm @ Northern Colorado
9/8 | 6:00 pm @ Houston Baptist*
9/15 | 6:00 pm Nicholls*
9/22 | 5:00 pm @ Brigham Young 
9/29| 6:00 pm Stephen F. Austin*
10/6 | 6:00 PM Abilene Christian*
10/20 | 4:00 PM @ Incarnate Word*
10/27 | 6:00 PM HOMECOMING
11/10 | 6:00 pm @ Northwestern State*
11/17  | 6:00 PM Lamar*

*Conference Game

LSU Tigers - Will They Rally?

The 2018 LSU football season will likely be similar to the ones that have preceded it. As always, it boils down to the following key factors: coaching, personnel, injuries, the schedule, and, momentum (or luck, as the case may be.)

First, coaching. Last year the Tigers got away from their identity as they were not as physical as they have been in the past and it showed on short yardage, especially in the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame. Coach Ed Orgeron recognized this shortfall and made an offensive coordinator change. That’s what you do when you realize your coaching staff does not fit or, in other words, does not do what the head coach wants. And Matt Canada is gone. Orgeron is not afraid to make a move when things aren’t going right.

Bigger news on the coaching front is the hire of Steve Ensminger as the new offensive coordinator. If you recall what happened during Orgeron’s interim year, LSU was wide open in their scheme while Ensminger was offensive coordinator, with a couple of high scoring games and shoot-outs with SEC teams. LSU will get back to that, but still be able to get the crucial short yardage situations under control.

The defense is run by Dave Armanda and he is one of the top defensive coordinators in the country. The defense, with more depth up front, will play to LSU standards.

From everything you read, this year LSU will lean heavily on the pass to set up the run, and that makes good sense because you adapt your offense to your personnel. LSU has a large group of talented wide receivers. The offensive line will be much better; both more experienced and healthier. The only upside of last year’s injury situation is that all the freshmen who played last year now have game experience in the SEC. The running backs will be by committee. The quarterback, as of this writing, is still to be determined. From Orgeron’s statements on the talking tours, he still isn’t sure. He is waiting for someone to step up and take charge.

On defense, all you need to know is that we have excellent players at each level – cornerback Andreaz "Greedy” Williams, linebacker Devin White, and defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence. But, more importantly, LSU has quality depth on defense that will allow for substitutions to protect the first string.  

Last season, special team’s performance was average to poor. LSU’s bad scoring percentage in the red zone was a result of sub-par place kicking. A couple losses were attributed to that phase of the game. To remedy that problem, Orgeron brought in a highly-regarded graduate-transfer place kicker, but kicking in front of 90,000 fans, rather than 3,000, is a different ballgame, so we’ll see. For LSU to have a successful season, the kicker is a key component.

There is no way to predict or control injuries. Which brings us to the schedule. Depending upon the sports page you read, LSU will play anywhere between the toughest to the sixth-toughest schedule in college football. It’s big boy football. There is the SEC West, of course, plus this year the conference cross-over opponents are Georgia and Florida. The opening game is Miami (Florida).

Momentum and luck are greatly affected by what many call the team dynamic. Does the team play hard no matter what happens? This remains to be seen, of course, as each team is different. But if last year after the Troy game (during which LSU was embarrassed) is any indicator, the team and coaches pulled together and salvaged what looked to be a disastrous season and came out 9 – 4.

That type of record sounds about right for this year.

9/2 | 6:30 pm MIAMI*
9/15 | 2:30 pm @ AUBURN
9/22 | TBA LA TECH 
10/6 | TBA @ FLORIDA
11/10 | TBA @ ARKANSAS
11/17  | TBA RICE
11/24 | TBA @ TEXAS A&M

*Game played at a neutral location

Saints - Gearing Up for a Stellar Season
by Tom Hoefer

Rumor has it that all calendars have been banned from the New Orleans Saints training camp in Metairie to prevent Drew Brees from noticing that he is 39. The fear is he will realize he is long past his sell-by date and suddenly begin playing like it.  

Brees’ continued stellar performance, along with the emergence of rookies Marshon Lattimore and Alvin Kamara in 2017, presents an opportunity for the Saints to squeeze out one more World Championship before the 19-year veteran QB inevitably acts his age.

Coach Sean Payton enters his 12th year at the helm of the Saints and unambiguously in win-now mode. GM Mickey Loomis and Payton dealt 2019’s first-round pick to move up in this year’s draft to select UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport in an effort to immediately bolster the pass rush.   

Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen’s rejuvenated Saints defensive unit improved last year with All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan leading the charge on the defensive front. Lattimore led a patchwork defensive backfield that played remarkably better than recent years, one Hail Mary in January excepted. Patrick Robinson returns after winning a Super Bowl in Philadelphia and Marcus Williams, 2017’s playoff goat, figures to improve in his second season. The linebacking corps in 2017 suffered numerous injuries and performed inconsistently. The return of Alex Anzalone and free agent pickup Demario Davis join AJ Klein to bolster the 2018 defense.

On offense, the Saints will remain near the top of the league as long as Brees defies chronology. In 2017, they finished second to New England in total yards and were fourth in the NFL in points scored. They’ll rely on Kamara even more this year as fellow running back Mark Ingram misses the first four games due to a league-imposed suspension. Kamara’s rookie year in 2017 featured 1500 total yards and an NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Michael Thomas enters his third season as Brees’ top target. The offensive line had an outstanding 2017 opening countless holes for Ingram and Kamara and allowing the second fewest sacks in the NFL. 2017 first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk anchors the squad. 

It’s a fun time to be a Saints fan. The upcoming season holds tremendous promise if the Saints can avoid a few pitfalls. On offense, the Saints need reliable production from the tight end spot, continued solid offensive line work, and to survive the Ingram suspension.

On defense, if the Saints get better QB pressure with the addition of Davenport, their biggest issue in 2017 can improve. Keeping the linebackers and defensive tackles healthy is also key.  

Overall a repeat or even improvement on last season is possible. The schedule is tougher and the Division is solid. They just need to keep Brees youthful and avoid January meltdowns.

2018-2019 SCHEDULE

8/9 | 6:00 PM @Jacksonville
8/17 | 7:00 PM Arizona
8/25 | 7:00 PM @LA Chargers
8/30 | 7:00 PM LA Rams

Regular Season:
9/9 | 12:00 PM Tampa Bay
9/16 | 12:00 PM Cleveland
9/23 | 12:00 PM @Atlanta
9/30 | 3:25 PM @NY Giants
10/8 | 7:15 PM Washington
Bye Week
10/28 | 7:20 PM @Minnesota
10/4 | 3:25 PM LA Rams
11/11 | 12:00 PM @Cinninnati
11/18 | 12:00 PM Philadelphia
11/22 | 7:20 PM Atlanta
11/29 | 7:20 PM @Dallas
12/9 | 12:00 PM @Tampa Bay
12/17 | 7:10 PM @Carolina
12/2 | 3:20 PM Pittsburgh
12/30 | 12:00 PM Carolina

Tailgating - Louisiana-Style

It’s "tailgating season” in Louisiana, so invite your friends, pack the truck, and claim your spot. Tailgating isn’t only a way to kill time for an hour before kickoff. It’s an all-day ritual – a reunion of friends, a competitive cook-off, and a perfect excuse for a party all rolled into one time-honored pre-game event.  Here you will find some helpful information to make your tailgating experience the best ever, no matter which Louisiana team you root for.

McNeese State University
Home: Lake Charles
Mascot: Rowdy the Cowboy
Colors: Royal Blue and Gold
Stadium Name: The Hole
Where to tailgate: Tailgating is any and everywhere around Cowboy Stadium. Those hardcore fans begin their tailgating the Thursday night before a big game while the rest of the fans show up early Saturday afternoon.
Horse & Rider
Since 2007, the "Horse and Rider” statue comes to life every Saturday during football season. The horse, Moondancer, and the Mystery Rider march down Common Street to Cowboy Stadium. During pre-game, Moondancer and the Mystery Rider take the field and scan the crowd intently, ensuring everyone in the stands is a Cowboy fan.

Jolie Blon
In 1970, McNeese named "Jolie Blon” the official McNeese fight song. This popular Cajun waltz is often referred to as the "Cajun National Anthem.” The McNeese Band first played the song in 1951 under band director Eddie See.

Bringing the Wood
"Bringing the Wood” is a football saying that stands for big hits and big plays. The Cowboys started the tradition of bringing out an actual piece of wood to honor a player that demonstrates the act on that particular week.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Home: Lafayette
Mascot: Cayenne Pepper
Colors: White and Vermilion Red
Stadium Name: Cajun Field
Where to tailgate: Tailgating takes place right outside of the stadium and wraps itself around and down to the practice football area. Since you’re in Cajun Country, you will always find someone making a jambalaya and family and friends playing games like washers. 
Fight Song and Ragin Cajun Chants
When visiting Cajun Field, be prepared to take part in several chants and the traditional fight song. At every touchdown, the fight song is played and ends with a very loud and passionate, "GO U-L!”

Southern University
Home: Baton Rouge
Mascot: LaCumba Jaguar
Colors: Gold, Columbia Blue
Stadium Name: A.W. Mumford Stadium
Where to tailgate: You will see tailgating going on all around campus at an SU football game. From cook-offs and family and friend gatherings, to fraternities making their signature frat punches, you’re sure to find something for every Jaguar fan to enjoy.
Family Affair
Since Southern University is a HBCU (Historically Black College and University), heritage is important. Many families have a number of SU alumni who attend each football game.

Marching Jukebox
One of the biggest highlights of Southern University is the band, "The Marching Jukebox.” Regardless if the game isn’t going well or the season isn’t the best, people still attend for the band known as "The best band in the land.”

Southern University Hymn
After each game, the Southern University Band performs the "SU Hymn.” If you’re a true Southern fan, you know to stick around and watch.

Louisiana State University
Home: Baton Rouge
Mascot: Mike the Tiger
Colors: Gold and Purple
Stadium Name: Death Valley
Where to tailgate: According to a 2017 USA Today report, LSU ranked number two in the nation for best college football tailgating schools, adding that every LSU tailgate is a smorgasbord of local specialties. Die-hard fans start at Tiger Stadium and take over the entire campus, forming a temporary community that becomes the fifth largest city by population in the state. The stadium holds 92,400, but there are usually at least 120,000 fans tailgating. Many begin tailgating near the stadium on Wednesday night before Saturday games and cook all the way through game time. 
Mike the Tiger has been known to visit tailgaters before the game and enters the stadium with the cheerleaders. The "real” Mike lives in a habitat right outside the stadium and can be seen at every home game. 

Victory Hill
Before each game, thousands of fans line up along the bottom of Victory Hill waiting to get a glimpse of the football team (attired in suits and ties), head coach, the Golden Girls dance line, Mike the Tiger, the cheerleaders, and the Golden Band from Tiger Land marching to the stadium. Fans and foes alike eagerly anticipate the four notes of the band’s pregame salute when it sounds on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

Northwestern State University
Home: Natchitoches
Mascot: Vic the Demon
Colors: White and purple
Stadium Name: Harry Turpin Stadium
Where to Tailgate: Known as Donald’s Demon Alley, the tailgating area boasts a lively experience. The Alumni and President’s Tailgating takes place around the Collins Family Pavilion.
Every year, the last game of the season is played against Stephen F. Austin State University, and it’s a battle for the largest football trophy in sports – Chief Caddo. There are many legends behind the origin of the Caddo story. It is said that the Chief divided the land among his two sons. One went east (Natchitoches, La.) and one went west (Nacogdoches, Tx.) They traveled the same distance and established villages. SFA and NSU became rivals and have been playing for the 7’6, 320-pound wooden statue since 1961. Each year the Chief stands in an end zone awaiting his fate. In the 51 years of the tradition, the Chief has spent 36 in Natchitoches. Some say it’s the meat pies and good Cajun cooking! 

Southeastern Louisiana University
Home: Hammond
Mascot: Roomie the Lion
Colors: Green and gold
Stadium Name: Strawberry Stadium
Where to Tailgate: Friendship Circle. Located near the stadium, this campus landmark fills in with students, alumni, fans, cheerleaders and the band in the hours leading up to each game.
The Lion Walk
Two hours before kickoff, players and coaches, joined by the Spirit of the Southland marching band, make their way to Strawberry Stadium, passing through Friendship Circle to greet tailgating fans. During the game, when the home team scores a touchdown, the announcer bellows, "That’s another Lions first down!” while fireworks explode near the end field.

Louisiana Tech
Home: Ruston
Mascot: Tech the Bulldog
Colors: Red and Blue
Stadium Name: Joe Aillet Stadium
Where to Tailgate: Tailgating is a way of life for Bulldog fans at the Argent Pavilion, Tailgate Alley, and the Kids Zone.
The Spirit of ’88
At the south end of Joe Aillet Stadium stands a bronze Bulldog statue named the Spirit of ‘88. The statue commemorates the 1988 Bulldog football team which blazed the path into Division I-A football for LA Tech. Every Bulldog player touches the statue for good luck as he walks down the ramp before home games.
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