MSU Football

admin Thursday, September 14, 2023 Comments Off on MSU Football
MSU Football

It’s getting close to the time for putting all this preseason and pregame prep to the test on Sept. 2.

1st Quarter – Offensive Overview

I wanted this year’s in-depth preview and analysis to follow the sequence of a real game. I started with the pregame, which begins with all the personnel work and culture focus off the field.

I’ll now segue to the first quarter with the offense and the most important position on the field … the quarterbacks.

Three or four games into last season, Goff had to know he didn’t have the right quarterbacks to run his offense the way it needed to be executed. I think I came to that conclusion after one half of the opening game: the 40-17 loss at Montana State.

There is no need to rehash the QB and passing stats. Take my word for it, they were dismal from the start and never really got better despite ending the year with three straight wins. Thank former running back Deonta McMahon for that because he pretty much carried the entire offense the last three games.

Goff went to the portal (as he did in 2022). But this time he felt he brought 

QB Nate Glantz

in a much higher grade of talent in Nate Glantz and Tre Simmons.  

Glantz, my pick to get the starting job, came in from Iowa State via junior college, where he was named National Jr. Co. Offensive Player of the year as a freshman. Not too shabby.

Simmons arrived here through the smaller Division II ranks and posted impressive passing and running numbers at tiny Tusculum University in Florida.

Goff likes the fact that both of them have established game stats, started games and played a lot of football as compared to his two previous transfer portal guys from last season. He is not starting from scratch with Glantz and Simmons. Both have looked very effective in practice, displaying strong arms, good decision-making, big play capabilities and leadership.

The one thing Goff wants to see every time either one is under center is an extreme focus on ball protection.  “Protecting the football for sure is a top priority. We have to make sure we are making good decisions back there.”

There were no picks from either quarterback in the first camp scrimmage, which brought a smile to Goff’s face because he endured an inordinate number of turnovers last season from his quarterback carousel.

Goff describes Glantz as a “gunslinger” who thinks he can make every throw work no matter how tight the coverage may be a la Brett Favre. The head coach doesn’t appear to be overly concerned with that mindset right now because he realizes this offense needs big play potential.

Simmons has not disappointed with his passing, both long and short. But Goff sees the added dimension of his running skills making him a true dual threat QB. “Tre can find a crease in the defense and take it 80 yards,” Goff says.

Goff has repeated his refrain that it’s a tight competition that may not be decided until the night before the season opener. It’s that close, according to the man who has to make the decision. “They both have strong arms. They’re both athletic. It’s neck and neck, and I know you guys (the media) think I’m just saying that, but it really is. One day one guy is on fire and the next day the other guys answers the bell. It will be a very difficult decision, but that’s a really good thing right there, “ Goff admitted. 

“I’m not going to force the issue (of making a QB decision too quickly). In my mind, I really like what’s going on. I’ve never done this, but I’ll take it as far as saying you could see both guys. Both guys bring a different element to the game.”

The smaller, faster Simmons has shown flashes of his running skills in camp and is quite aware of the dual threat label, but is always thinking pass first. “Taking off running is not really my thing. 

QB Tre Simmons

I like getting my playmakers the ball. We all like to get our playmakers the ball in open spaces to make plays. Before I take off and run, I try and give them the chance to shine because we are all the offense and we are all one and need to all shine together as one.”

Simmons says he pushes Glantz to excel in every practice. It’s a good, healthy competition with the absence of any controversy or drama.

Glantz, already voted as one of several team captains, welcomes the heat.  

“My whole life I’ve been competing. I left one high school because I was told I wasn’t a QB. Turned around and won a state championship (in Nebraska), beating my old school. I went the Jr. Co. route and beat out eight quarterbacks. [There were] transfers from LSU and all over the place. Competition has always been in my blood,” proclaimed Glantz.

Both quarterbacks have clearly enhanced the position with arm strength, accuracy, pocket movement and the intangibles of confidence and leadership.

In the end, Glantz’ experience, passing ability and command of the offense will earn him the starting job, in my opinion. But odds are Goff will not keep Simmons on the bench. Look for Simmons to trot out for certain situations and red zone packages.

The biggest question mark on this team has been receiver.

That’s hard to figure with all the 7 on 7 football being played across the country and the sheer number of receivers of all shapes and sizes in the transfer portal. But the receiver talent and skill level were so limited and ineffective last year there was a huge hole to fill over the off-season.

Goff and his offensive staff got busy signing three transfers, including Marcus Peterson from Cincinnati, who has shown some flashes of his three-star prep status.

In total, the staff added 10 receivers to the roster between the portal and high school recruits. Add in two or three holdovers from last season, including the talented Jon McCall and Jalen Johnson, and you have many more hands on deck.

The receivers from last year either couldn’t get open, couldn’t catch, couldn’t block or couldn’t gain extra yards after what few catches they made.   

Fixing that was priority No. 1 for Goff. And he has been riding their backs hard throughout camp, demanding better execution and more physical play against coverage.

“I need somebody to make some tough plays. That’s exactly what I need,” Goff said. “Every catch at this level is going to be contested. There are very few people that are wide open in the endzone uncovered. So I need some guys to step up and make some contested catches, make some difficult blocks and make some very difficult adjustments in the middle of the play.”

WR Jon McCall

That’s exactly what the Cowboys receiving group lacked last year but will need to have three-fold this fall to succeed. Goff again was adamant about his new receivers going above and beyond the norm. “I don’t want them to say it’s a 50-50 ball and we are going to win half of those. I want them to have the mindset to make every play, and on top of that be more physical on the perimeter. That’s two things we missed last year and worked very hard to improve on that area with this receiver group.”

For a receiver to get open and separate himself from coverage is not an easy task, says junior wideout Jalen Johnson. It’s a multi-layer process in every play. “It’s a game within the game. You have the plays but it comes down to technique. Timing with the quarterback. Reading your keys and reading the defensive secondary. Going 100 percent, trusting yourself and reading the right keys. And that’s how you get open,” Johnson explained.

Returning sophomore receiver Jon McCall is having the best camp in this crowded position group. He took his lumps learning the ropes as a freshman last year in game action, and seemed to learn some lessons well as he turned in two excellent performances in both team scrimmages, scoring four touchdowns over those two games.

“Jon has strong hands and he high points the ball very well. He is a talent but has to continue to stay focused and work hard. He is a big play potential guy,” says Goff.

No doubt McCall has earned one of the starting wideout spots and possibly may pick up the nickname “Big Play” McCall if he takes what he has done in practice to the regular season.  In the first scrimmage, he made a leaping catch with tight coverage and scooted for a 30 yard gain. In the second game, he caught a short pass and broke several tackles en route to an 80 yard touchdown. Explosive plays from the receivers is what this offense needs desperately, along with yards after the catch (the much ballyhooed stat YAC).

This Air Raid playbook is not all about the passing game. Goff likes to establish a balanced, consistent rushing attack and will ask D’angelo Durham to carry much of the load.

The redshirt junior only played in four games last year, gaining 340 yards off 35 carries (9.7 yard average per rush) before a serious leg injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. His recovery after almost losing the leg due to nerve damage and other complications was long and difficult. But Durham says he is 100 percent healthy and his time on the sideline taught him to be a more patient runner.

In the first intra-squad scrimmage, the ground game pounded out 226 yards on 

RB D’Angelo Durham

38 attempts with 4 rushing touchdowns. It’s only a practice game and a small sample size, but it was the first glimpse of the possibility that the position group may be pretty deep.

Durham is the No. 1 option, but returning junior Josh Parker, Ivory Roberts, Cam Thomas and Coleby Hamm will all get some snaps.

McMahon led the Cowboys’ running game in 2022 with more than 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was pretty much the only offensive threat.  Durham and company may need to get nearly 2,000 total yards and 15 rushing touchdowns to keep the offense on track.

Of course all this offensive chatter won’t amount to much without an improved offensive line.

One thing is for sure: the O-linemen are bigger. Add in that they’re stronger, more physical and have wider bodies for increased depth. 

When it comes to the offensive line there is strength in numbers.

OL Cole Leclair

Four lettermen return; they’re led by guards Dylan Dauzart and Cole LeClair, who were both named to the All SLC Preseason second team.

The battle for starting tackles and center wages on. Goff brought in a lengthy number of transfers to choose from. He didn’t have a choice after losing so many starters to graduation and undertaking the hunt for better talent.

Two juniors are back in Chris Stephens and Hezekiah Nelson along with sophomore James Reddick. But it’s the new guys who are opening some eyes: Jackson State transfer Jasper Friis, Elijah Melendez from Valdosta State and Jr. Co. newcomer David Duvall.

Two other guys stick out in the crowd, and both are redshirt freshmen: Hayes Creel and Greg Knox. They will probably come off the bench, but they, along with true freshman Jamall Franklin, draw your attention because they are massive young men. Creel is 6 feet, 7 inches, 315 pounds, Knox is 6 foot, 6 inches, 310 pounds and Franklin is listed at 6 feet, 7 inches, 389 pounds.

Goff wanted his offensive line to get bigger in the off-season and apparently they took his cue. All of them became close friends with Mrs. Butterworth and Aunt Jemima.

Out of the 15 or so offensive linemen on the roster, I could only find two officially listed under 300 pounds.

Through the first three weeks of camp, the offensive line appears to be one of this team’s strengths. There is no doubt they are the biggest bunch of O-linemen McNeese has had in some time.

2nd Quarter – Deep Dive Into Defense

Defense is usually listed as the second phase of football, so we move to the second quarter for the defenders.

There is no doubt the defensive backfield is the one area in need of the most improvement and infusion of talent.

The secondary was beset with injuries from mid season last year, so a lot of untested underclassmen were forced to grow up quickly.

DB Richard Akers and WR Jonathan Harris

Goff and defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Tony Pecoraro spent many days searching the transfer portal for experienced players who could come in and make quick impact.

If the workouts so far are any indication, the secondary will be much improved and more instinctive. These players will execute with better technique and, like the O-line, will be bigger and more physical than in the past.

“Jamori Evans, a junior college transfer, is a 200-pound guy. He’s smart and physical, and he’s a really good football player on the backend.  Boogsie Silvera, a Charleston Southern transfer, is another very physical guy, 200 pounds and very smart,” noted Goff.

“(In) the two corner positions, you have two guys battling right now with Levi Wyatt, 6 feet, one inch, 185 pounds. Jadden Matthews, 6 feet, 187 pounds. And behind them guys who played so early last year so we do have some rotation right there, and we have guys battling for positions. We look like a football team right there,” Goff said with smile.

A few DBs that will be roaming the secondary as well include junior Twillie Lovett, sophomore Richard Akers, who gained important experience last season, Johnquai Lewis, Darius Shields, Jaylen Jackson and Thomas Miles a big 6-feet, one-inch, 190-pound junior.

DE Earnest Grayson

Clearly, the secondary is better, and the staff is able to cultivate more talent from a bigger pool of players.  They are showing better cover skills and more physicality in coverage. They don’t make many catches easy in practice and at times get under the skin of the receivers. That was evident on the first day in pads when a sideline-clearing brawl broke out after freshman receiver Makhi Paris had had enough of getting roughed up and let his emotions get the best of him with some after the whistle shoving.

Explosive plays are going to burn any secondary, especially in today’s pass-happy college game. The key is not giving up the big play and not letting it result in a quick score.

The other area McNeese needs help with is turnovers, which was lacking from the defense a year ago.

I think this defense will be led by another standout linebacker.

Last season, an undersized Kordell Williams was an unstoppable defensive force, leading the team in tackles and suffocating ball carriers.

Over the last three games in 2022, Williams passed the baton to sophomore linebacker Micah Davey. Davey ended up with 68 tackles (38 solo) and eight stops for losses over limited play last year.  There is no doubt Davey will continue that trajectory. At 6 feet, 2 inches and 240 pounds, Davey has lightning speed for a man his size. He will have offensive coordinators drawing up special blocking schemes to limit his impact.  

LB Micah Davey

Lamar found out first-hand the impact of Davey, son of former LSU star quarterback Rohan Davey. In the season finale against the Cardinals last year, Davey collected a career high 18 tackles and 12 solo stops. He returned a fumble 78 yards for a touchdown in McNeese’s much-needed 24-20 win that capped that three-game season ending winning streak.

That game alone should have landed Davey on the preseason all-conference first team, but he was snubbed by voters for reasons I have yet to figure out.

I sensed a chip on Davey’s broad shoulders talking with him after the first camp scrimmage, but he checked his emotions when asked about not making the All SLC preseason defensive team.  “There are people who run the numbers and do things like that. I’m just here to play football and see where this team can go.”

“That man right there (Davey) has a chance to do something special.  He is 240 pounds and can flat out fly,” Goff said.

This Cowboys defense will go as Davey’s goes. He is that good. But he will need help from what will be a high number of new starters. Davey believes this defense is solidified in a foundation of culture and consistency, making it easy for new talent to find their way.  

“If you have a defense that already has an identity and the groundwork is done and you bring in certain new guys, then it’s easy for them to just fall in and buy in. Take in the coaching and adapt to what we are doing defensively,” Davey said.

The defensive front four will have a solid mix of returning and new players. One of those will be junior defensive end Earenest Grayson III who at 6 feet 3 inches, 255 pounds, has the needed combination of size, speed and desire to wreak havoc.  

Grayson Mays and Khaylon Chappie are both in the 245- to 250-pound range, but they have a physical mean streak.  The need for more tough, physical D-linemen led Goff to Dominick Bolden, a transfer signee from Navarro College, and Isaiah Jackson, a junior college signee from California. Both are near 300 pounds and bring brute force to the defensive line missing from a year ago.

There is no better example of a Mack truck presence than Trey Winters, all 6 feet, 7 inches and 345 pounds of him. He converted from offensive to defensive line over spring practice, and he says his job is to fill large gaps so the linebackers can charge behind him and make plays. The line change hasn’t been difficult because of his old prep days.  

“People don’t know but I played defensive line in high school. I switched to offense at Iowa and in (junior college) ball. It’s more fun to hit people,” Winters laughed.

Much like their offensive brothers, this defensive line will have a lot of players in the rotation and keep fresh legs on the attack.

 “Defensively I want them to play the same mindset as we do on offense, and that is an attacking style defense.  Got to pressure the quarterback. Got to prevent the big plays and you got to stop the run,” says Goff.

Half Time – Coach & Adjustments

As players are free to switch teams and move around the collegiate landscape through the transfer portal, you can’t expect the same assistant coaches to return every year. Head coaches prefer to keep a coaching staff intact, but that’s not always the case or realistic.

There are four new assistant coaches that joined six returning second-year coaches. The two under the most pressure are offensive coordinator and QB coach Adam Neguebauer and new wide receivers coach Roy Roundtree.

It’s pretty simple in my mind.  Those are two position groups that need the biggest upgrade in talent and performance.

Neguebauer has a past with Goff, having worked under him on the staff at Tiffin University, so they are on the same page so any half-time adjustments should come easy between the two.

Defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro didn’t show what he could really do last season because he was so bereft of talent and depth.  And the injuries piled on at the end of the year.   McNeese’s offensive time of possession was so lopsided because of the offense’s ineptitude, and it greatly affected the defense’s effectiveness.

The Cowboys defense would leave the field last year at times and barely have enough time to catch their breath or gulp down some water before heading back out to the front lines. There were no defensive or offensive adjustments to overcome all that went wrong.

 “Here’s the issue a year ago: too many turnovers,” Goff said. “Let’s be honest, you can’t turn the ball over that many times and put your defense right back out there, and you can’t live in the third-and-long. Those two areas right there we spent a lot of time, energy and money on.” Pecoraro will be designing defensive game plans against four conference teams with new head coaches and coaching staffs, and seven SLC teams with new quarterbacks. Prior year game films and a breakdown of coaching tendencies will have little effect on game plans.  

Goff and his assistants better be prepared to think and execute on the fly.

3rd Quarter – Should Be Special

McNeese’s only player to make the preseason All Southland first team was field goal kicker Garrison Smith.

Considering what this team went through under coach Frank Wilson, having literally no kicker who could make a PAT, much less a field goal, then maybe having an All-SLC kicker is a good thing.

Smith, an Ohio State transfer, came in with Goff last season and proved quickly that he had a great leg and strong mind to make kicks. And he did just that, making 10 of 11 field goals and a perfect 25 for 25 on extra points.

Goff says McNeese has the best kicker in the Southland, and that’s why there is no real competition going on in the kicking or punting departments, other than for backup purposes.  

In the first half of last season, Smith was a non-factor in deciding games because the margin of victory over that 1-7 start was 17 points. Over the last four games, where the Cowboys went 3-1, the scoring difference was reduced to 7 points, so every kick mattered.

K Garrison Smith

Punter Callum Eddings is back for his junior season. He averaged 38 plus yards per punt, which is acceptable, and the Cowboys punt and kickoff return coverage was a special teams bright spot.  

Special teams coach Thomas Reese would like that to continue and to see more touchbacks on kickoffs as well.

Former punt and kickoff return specialist Mason Pierce left through the portal, so return duty is being decided in August camp, and there is no shortage of candidates.


4th Quarter – Head Coaches Win Games Late

Coaching blunders, poor time management, suspect decisions in crucial moments, and lack of in-game adjustments will lose games, especially in the fourth quarter.

When the clock is ticking in tight games, critical decisions begin and end with the head coach, and he has to be his best during those times. Experience is important, as is having a good coaching staff for game planning and to feed the head coach information.

Goff is now entering his 14th year as a head coach, and he has surrounded 

Head Coach Gary Goff

himself with assistants he trusts, knows, and has worked with in the past.  

Over his last three seasons before taking the McNeese job, Goff had an impressive 86-percent win-loss percentage, going 31-5 through his final year at Tiffin and two seasons leading Valdosta State.  

He knows how to win and has proved he can turn a struggling program around given time. He did it at Tiffin, where he went from 0-11 to 8-3 in five years.


LB Brayden Adams

In this age of the transfer portal, and given McNeese’s goal of moving up to the FBS level, Goff doesn’t have the luxury of time. He has to win now, and he knows it.

When it was quite evident that last year’s team didn’t have the quarterback, receivers and offensive line play to execute his up-tempo Air Raid offense, credit Goff for shifting gears and making the needed adjustment to a ground-and-pound running scheme.

He didn’t have much choice, but he wasn’t stubborn or pig-headed enough to force the passing game when it clearly wasn’t working. Goff circled the wagons and figured out a way to win the final three games. The winning streak against pretty bad competition didn’t erase all the turnovers, sacks, chunk plays and the growing list of problems, but it did offer some hope and a smidgen of positive vibes going into the off season.

During a recent appearance on the SoundOff TV show, Goff said he has “blacked out” much of last season, and you can’t blame him.

With 57 new players on the roster, he has turned the page from the 4-7 season in 2022 and is working from a clean slate for ’23.

Add in a chippy attitude, and you have a whole different team and outlook.   

“At the end of the season, this conference will know who some of these guys are. We have been attacking the off season from all summer to camp with that mentality right there. We are not worried about what everyone is thinking about us. (We’re) just worried about how we attack the field every day,” says Goff.

Post-Game- A Long Three Years

McNeese has not had a winning season since 2019, when Sterlin Gilbert led the Cowboys to a 7-5 record and then bolted after one year for Syracuse.

Well, since then, you know the story:  

Changes in not only head coaches but culture and systems. Three straight losing seasons and an abrupt fall from the upper tier of FCS and the Southland Conference.  

The way down has been difficult, littered with discipline trouble, academic APR problems, locker room division and bad personnel moves. On top of all that internal chaos, throw in two hurricanes, a record freeze and a flood, along with a global pandemic.  

The program was crumbling, not only on the inside but on the outside as well, as the facilities had fallen woefully behind others in FCS, making recruiting that much tougher.

In comes Goff, who is media savvy and knows how to connect well with fans in person and through the TV cameras. He says all the right things but doesn’t offer up an unrealistic, Pollyanna spin.   

He admits when the team is playing bad, the execution is lousy, or he and the coaches are not doing a good enough job preparing the players. Goff accepts the expectations of winning here and contending for a conference championship. 

McNeese needs to get back into the playoffs as badly as we need rain, and the dry spell on those two fronts is leaving a mark.

 “We are young. We need to win a close game that maybe nobody thinks we can win. Once that happens for a young football team it becomes dangerous. They don’t know any better and keep playing ball,” said a confident Goff. “I’m not putting that pressure on myself or the team (ending the three-year losing streak). We are going to go out there and do the best job we can one day at a time and see where the cards fall.”

Goff will push all his chips on the table to win the season opener Sept. 2 against Tarleton State, a team he says will be a lot like the Cowboys, to the point that “it will be us looking at the man in the mirror.”

Then it’s off to Gainesville to face Florida in a payday game, and two more road games at Alcorn State and Eastern Illinois. “Going to play an SEC opponent in their season home opener, it is what it 

Welland Williams

s. Go play the best you can and see what happens. Then its Alcorn and Eastern Illinois, who I think we match up well against. You take care of business and you come back home for your first in-conference game (Nicholls State). I kind of like the way it (the schedule) stacks up,” Goff concluded.

This will be an intriguing SLC race, with those four new head coaches with the Texas teams and all those new quarterbacks. 

Southeastern Louisiana was picked first again in the preseason conference poll, followed by Incarnate Word, the FCS semi-finalist from last season. McNeese was tabbed to finish third. Nicholls is fourth, Northwestern State is fifth, followed by Texas A & M-Commerce, Lamar and Houston Christian.

“The whole league is upside down 100 percent. The new norm right as rosters are completely different (he is referring to player turnover and the transfer portal). It’s exciting, but at the same time, you would like some normalcy. Then I would know what they do offensively and on defense. The Southland will be very different this year,” says Goff.

He has said numerous times that this team is “light years different” from his first year. And from what I have seen at practice and scrimmages, I would agree.

Both lines are bigger, and there is more available talent for depth. Goff has added size and experience to what was a depleted secondary. The running backs, led by Durham, are capable and will go three to four deep. The kicking game could be the best in the SLC.  They need more production and consistency from the tight ends, which has been a yearly goal.  

The receivers are coming around, and a few have stepped up their games, but Goff cautions they haven’t been tested under the lights when the game is on the line.

The Cowboys will go as far as the quarterback takes them.  Bottom line and no debate. Nate Glantz and Tre Simmons are night and day from last year’s turnover- and injury-prone quarterbacks. But they, too, have to prove themselves when the whistle blows on Sept. 2.

I think a lot will hinge on the schedule and how it lays out.  Who you play, when and where are often overlooked factors to a season.

A 3-1 start over the first four non-conference games would be ideal and give the Cowboys a great sense of confidence going into SLC play. The open date on Oct. 14 comes at the perfect midway point of the season, with huge home games against UIW and Northwestern State to follow.

Mark it down now.  Nov. 4 at Southeastern will be a pivotal game in the league race. Remember, the ragtag 

Jalen Johnson

McNeese squad from last season almost beat a Lions team (28-27 final score) that advanced to the second round of the FCS Playoffs in 2022.  

That one-point loss at home to Southeastern sparked that three-game winning streak to end the year. If the Cowboys can get going with that aforementioned 3-1 start, this team could be in the conference race or in play for an at large playoff bid.

That’s a lot to wish for and expect from a program that has won a total of 11 games over the last three seasons.  

“My concern is that we give our best effort one play at a time and worry about ourselves. We don’t worry about who we are lined up against or worry about making a mistake. We worry about playing the next play,” emphasized Goff, who is the first Cowboys head coach to return for a second season since 2019.

It has been a long, grueling and humbling road the last three years for a program that had no compass, no map, and no GPS to help them navigate a path back to respectability. 

McNeese has done the heavy lifting and has charted a new course. 

They will encounter some adversity on the journey, but the Cowboys have seen where they’ve been and won’t let that stop them from where they intend to go from here.

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