LAKE CHARLES — While it wasn’t a perfect debut, Sterlin Gilbert’s first game as a head coach was a winner.
Now comes the hard part.
After beating Southern University last weekend, McNeese jumps up a level in competition, traveling to Power 5 Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 Saturday night in Stillwater, Ok.
“They are a very good team, very well coached,” said Gilbert, who has worked as an assistant at Texas so he knows about the conference.
“It’s a tough place to play but also a good opportunity for us. McNeese’s success in these types of games speaks for itself.”
Over the years McNeese has won a handful of games against Football Championship Bowl Division teams and played well against others, like losing to Nebraska in the closing minutes in 2014.
And while part of this game is picking up a nice check, there is also not wanting to be embarrassed in front of the nation.
Plus, McNeese wants to establish itself as not just a team you pay to beat.
“We are going to focus on the McNeese Cowboys,” said Gilbert. “We are staying focused on us.”
Still, they have the attention of OSU, which thumped Oregon State on the road in its season opener.
“They’re based on defense up to this point,” Gundy said of McNeese. “They want to get lined up, play hard and run to the ball is what it looks like. They are trying to be balanced on offense.”
That’s how McNeese was in the 34-28 opening win, but there could be more of a surprise coming in Week 2. Gilbert has promised to run an up-tempo spread attack this year, making one wonder if the opener wasn’t more of a rope-a-dope.
“We are going to take what the defense gives us,” said Gilbert. “We want to be able to do both run and throw when needed.”
Led by Cody Orgeron’s solid performance at quarterback and a rushing attack that used six rushers, McNeese was able to wear down Southern until the Jaguars managed two very late scores.
OSU was led by new starting quarterback Spencer Sanders, who threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 119 more.
“He showed he can run the football and throw it,” said Gilbert. “We will need to find a way to contain him and that offense.”
McNeese won’t be able to count on senior safety Colby Burton, who was lost for the year with a broken leg in the opener.
“It’s disappointing for him,” said Gilbert, who added that Burton will be expected back next season.
“Our defense will have to play well and try to eliminate the big plays,” said Gilbert. “Without Colby others will have to step up. It’s the tough part of football.”
Orgeron will try to make the OSU offense after a solid first game, as he threw for 147 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 33 yards. Both his scores went to Trevor Begue.
More importantly, McNeese didn’t commit a turnover while recovering five of six Southern University fumbles.
“We preach taking care of the football,” said Gilbert.
They will need to do that again this week in Stillwater.