OGDEN — No Honey Badger? Don’t care.
LSU cornerback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Tyrann Mathieu, a.k.a. the Honey Badger, reportedly considered transferring to McNeese State when he was dimissed by the Tigers, but he checked into rehab and re-enrolled in classes at LSU instead.
That leaves only Wildcats and Cowboys on the field at Stewart Stadium today as Weber State (0-2) squares off against McNeese State (2-0) at 6 p.m. in WSU’s home opener.
The Wildcats are looking for their first win since dropping two games to Football Bowl Subdivision foes to start the year. With those out of the way, Weber State’s season will be judged on its record against teams at their own level.
“No question, but that doesn’t change our perspective or preparation or objectives,” ’Cats interim coach Jody Sears said. “We’ve got to take care of our business.”
Business continues with a solid Football Championship Subdivision test for Weber State.
McNeese State defeated FBS school Middle Tennessee State in its opener, destroyed Division III McMurry State last week and enters today’s contest ranked No. 19 in the FCS Top 25 poll.
Corralling the Cowboys is all about shutting down the run, Sears says. McNeese State is 55-5 since 2000 when rushing for 200 yards, 27-3 when doing so under current coach Matt Viator.
Running backs Champlain Babin, Javaris Murray and MarcusWiltz play their part in McNeese State’s attack, but Sears gives plenty of credit to the Cowboy’s O-line, which returns five starters.
“They’re a veteran offensive line. They’re big, they’re physical, they move well. They’re extremely well-coached,” Sears said. “They’re not as big as the two offensive lines we’ve faced, but in terms of a unit that has jelled, has good chemistry and camaraderie, they’re really good. They’ve got a right guard, (Arinze Agada) — he is a nasty son of a gun. He’s the kind of guy we want on our football team.”
The last time Weber State played McNeese State, the Wildcats had a quarterback named Jamie Martin under center, their only Walter Payton Trophy winner to date. WSU lost at home to the Cowboys in Martin’s final game in 1992 before he went on to a nine-year NFL career.
Current Weber State quarterback Mike Hoke says having faced two tough upper-division opponents in Fresno State and BYU to open the season will serve the Wildcats in the long run.
“It helps us a lot with experience. “Some guys, especially up front, we played some guys that it was their first time playing, so that’s going to help a lot during the season, especially with depth,” Hoke said. “The team in general, we’ve got a lot of potential, but just like coach always says, potential is not going to get us anywhere. We have a lot of good things to build off of, some mistakes to correct, but if we put it all together, we’re going to be real explosive, a hard team to beat.”
Hoke has completed 65 percent of his passes (38-of-58, one touchdown, one interception) so far but is averaging 146.5 yards per game. In the ground game, the Wildcats have rushed for just 91 yards per game while giving up 221 ypg to opponents, a trend they’ll need to reverse to have success against the Cowboys.
“They’re a downhill football team,” WSU cornerback David James said. “They have two good running backs, they have a wide receiver that can play quarterback and run the ball himself. The quarterback is under center a lot. He likes to hand the ball to his moneymakers, which are his running backs.”
Weber State is 1-3 all-time against teams currently in the Southland Conference, including 1-1 against McNeese State, which is located in Lake Charles, La., with that home-and-home series in 1991-92. The Cowboys are 9-8 against Big Sky Conference schools.
McNeese State senior safety Chris Raggett, this week’s Southland Conference defensive player of the week, tied an FCS record by returning two interceptions for touchdowns against McMurry State.
After two games, the Cowboys are averaging 48 points per game to just 11.5 for Weber State, though it’s tough to make a direct comparison based on who the two teams have played so far.
James says the Wildcats will be prepared for the Cowboys. Regardless of opponent, the goal remains the same.
“It doesn’t matter if we had to play another FBS team. We’re here and we’re focused on winning. We don’t look at this as a fresh start. We’re looking for our first win.”
• WSU NOTES: Sears has more recent experience against McNeese State than the rest of the Wildcats. He was the defensive coordinator at Eastern Washington when the Eagles won a first-round playoff game over the Cowboys in 2007.