The victory was astonishing. The way McNeese State defeated South Florida was sound. The margin of victory was historic.
Yet, McNeese State coach Matt Viator remains modest about last Saturday’s 53-21 feat in Tampa, the largest margin for a Football Championship Subdivision team over a Football Bowl Subdivision club in history.
“I don’t know if you can gauge anything from the first game,” he said. “I like how the team competed. As far as what kind of talent we have? One game is hard to figure out from.”
This much is known about McNeese State: The program is steeped in football tradition with two national runner-up finishes (1997, 2002) and a home in arguably the toughest FCS conference around, the Southland. Two one-point losses last year kept the Cowboys from a share of the conference title, which was split between Central Arkansas and eventual NCAA runner-up Sam Houston State.
Then, there is this eye-popping victory over a program out of the American Athletic Conference.
“Anytime you can bring national exposure, it’s a good thing,” Viator said.
Not that the Cowboys haven’t experienced it before.
But Viator said it’s hard to measure where such a victory ranks in school history.
“Our team is excited about the victory,” he said. “It’s our first over a BCS automatic-qualifying conference school. Where it ranks, I don’t know.”
Wherever it ranks, the win has grabbed the attention of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, McNeese’s next opponent.
UAPB (0-1) is trying to recover from a 62-11 defeat at the hands of Arkansas State and is hoping to bring back some of the 13-plus players who were not cleared to play in the season opener. Viator said he’s still figuring out which Golden Lions team the Cowboys will see Saturday, one that competes well at full strength or one that’s still significantly shorthanded.
“The team we watched last year, they impressed us,” Viator said of the Golden Lions, who won the SWAC title in 2012. “Anytime a quarterback (like Ben Anderson) can run and pass, that scares me.”
Despite the Lions’ first-game woes, Viator isn’t afraid of a letdown by the Cowboys, who open their home schedule on Saturday.
“This is a short-term business,” he said. “We turn around and play Pine Bluff. Anytime someone comes with championship pedigree, that pedigree immediately gives you respect.”
Against South Florida, quarterback Cody Stroud completed 12 of 21 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns. His 78-yard toss to tight end Nic Jacobs — who had 122 yards on five receptions — in the fourth quarter was one of the game’s biggest highlights.
The Cowboys’ offense was impressive all night, scoring 40 unanswered points (31 in the second quarter) and capitalizing off the Bulls’ miscues in the process. But Viator points to his defense as his team’s strongest suit.
Cornerback Guy Morgan led the team with nine tackles, two pass breakups and a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“We have more depth up front on defense than we’ve had in a while,” Viator said. “We have experienced guys in the secondary.
“Kicking game-wise, we’re better. I’m excited to see where that’ll take us.”
Viator will also be able to gauge how talented his team is with another game under its belt. But UAPB seems to grab his attention more.
“Again, when a team with a championship pedigree comes to your stadium, that gets your attention,” he said.
UAPB (0-1) at McNeese State (1-0)
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Cowboy Stadium, Lake Charles, La.
• TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/KUAP-FM 89.7
• Cover-it-Live: Live blog on the game will be available at www.pbcommercial.com and via Twitter @pbcommercial.com