Opponent Preview: McNeese State
McNeese State opens its 2014 season on Saturday against Nebraska. The Cowboys finished 10-3 in 2013, posting the program’s second 10-win regular season while making an appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. MSU returns 16 starters from last season.
McNeese State boasted one of the top offenses in the FCS last season, ranking sixth nationally in scoring (40.0 points per game), 17th in total offense (450.9 yards per game), 24th in rushing (208.9 yards per game) and 31st in passing (242.0 yards per game). The Cowboys will need players to step up to repeat those numers in 2014, as MSU loses its leading rusher, passer and receiver from last fall.
The Cowboys do return two of their three leading rushers from 2013 and three of their five leading receivers.
McNeese State was not as proficient on defense as it was on offense in 2013. The Cowboys allowed an average of 28.5 points per game and 416.1 yards per game last fall. MSU ranked 97th in the FCS by allowing an average of 242.9 yards per game, and the Cowboys surrendered 173.2 rushing yards per contest.
MSU returns its leading tackler from last season in defensive back Aaron Sam, who totaled 84 tackles. Linebacker Bo Brown also returns after producing 75 tackles and team-high totals of 12 tackles-for-loss and 4.0 sacks in 2013. Despite Sam and Brown returning, McNeese State must still replace three of its five leading tacklers from last fall.
Nebraska defeated McNeese State, 38-14, on Oct. 12, 2002, in the only meetings between the programs. Husker quarterback Jammal Lord enjoyed a record-setting day against the Cowboys. Lord rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 12-of-18 passes for 151 yards and one touchdowns. His 218 rushing yards were a Nebraska quarterback record, as were his 369 yards of total offense.
McNeese State Head Coach Matt Viator
One of the most successful coaches in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Matt Viator begins his ninth season at McNeese State today. Viator owns a 62-27 record with the Cowboys, including a 10-3 mark in 2013. Viator led McNeese State to a 53-21 victory over South Florida last fall. The win was the Cowboys’ first-even win over a BCS Conference opponent, while the 53 points and 32-point margin of victory were both NCAA records for an FCS school against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
Viator has never had a losing season, and he has led the Cowboys to three Southland Conference titles and four FCS playoff appearances. A McNeese State alumnus, Viator is a three-time nominee for Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year.
Before becoming MSU’s head coach, Viator served as an assistant for seven seasons from 1999 to 2005. During that time, the Cowboys won three conference titles and advanced to the FCS playoffs four times, including a runner-up finish in 2002. Before becoming a collegiate coach, Viator served as a high school head coach in Louisiana. He coached at Sulphur High School from 1995 to 1998, Jennings High School from 1991 to 1994 and Vinton High School from 1989 to 1990. His first coaching stint was an assistant coach at Sam Houston High School from 1986 to 1988.