The Nicholls football team is headed back to Texas this week in what promises to be one of the toughest games of the season for the No. 9 team in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Sam Houston State dominated the Southland Conference series over the years, winning 16 of the last 20 over the Colonels, but it was Nicholls who got the better of the Bearkats in 2018. Add on their loss to Lamar in triple overtime a week ago and the Bearkats will be fired up come Saturday. Meanwhile Nicholls is looking to build on one of the best starts in program history and stay the final undefeated team in conference play.
With such a big game coming up, we reached out to Sam Houston beat writer Josh Criswell with the Hunstville Item to answer some of the burning questions about the Bearkats going into the weekend.
1. Not many people saw last Saturday's upset to Lamar coming. To start things off, what happened?
In short, one of the best defensive performances in Sam Houston State history was met with one of the worst offensive showings I've ever seen at the college level.
The Bearkats shut down Lamar’s rushing attack, which entered the game ranked first in the conference, holding the Cardinals to just 30 yards on 43 carries. The Kats had 19 tackles for loss and seven sacks, both season-highs, and allowed Lamar in the red zone just once during regulation. The only touchdown allowed before overtime came on an offensive miscue — a miscommunication on a snap resulted in a Lamar fumble recovery in the end zone.
On the other side of the ball, Sam Houston State was held scoreless over the final 46:46 of regulation, bungled a pair of goal line opportunities and missed two field goals that would have been the difference in a battle of offensive futility. Ultimately, Lamar sealed the victory by intercepting Ty Brock — who completed 12 of 34 for 114 yards, one touchdown and two picks while essentially playing on one leg — in triple-overtime.
2. Nicholls has the best rush offense in the Southland. Sam Houston has the best rush defense. How do the Bearkats plan to stop the Colonels on the ground?
The same thing the Kats have done all season long: dominate the line of scrimmage.
Sam Houston State has made a living in opposing backfields this year, leading the country with 12 tackles for loss per game. The Bearkats have a wealth of depth on the defensive line, with FBS transfers Joe Wallace (Texas Tech) and Trace Mascorro (UTEP) yet to meet their match at the FCS level. They have a pair of senior leaders at the linebacker position in Hunter Brown and Royce See, in addition to sophomore Markel Perry, who is enjoying a breakout season in a buck linebacker role.
3. SHSU seems to be struggling with keeping quarterbacks healthy this year. What's the outlook for Ty Brock this week and what kind of player can the Colonels expect to see?
There might not be a team in the country with worse luck at the quarterback position this year than Sam Houston State.
The Bearkats lost senior quarterback Mike Dare to hip surgery in the summer, leaving sophomores Eric Schmid and Ty Brock as the team's only serious options behind center. Schmid delivered a historic 531-yard, five-touchdown performance in a conference-opening blowout of Incarnate Word, spurring optimism that the high-octane offense of years past had returned. Then Schmid suffered a broken hand on the second drive of the Kats' next game at McNeese, thrusting Ty Brock — who is battling an ankle injury from the UIW game, and has struggled with mobility and stepping into throws as a result — back into the starting role.
Sam Houston State head coach K.C. Keeler admitted last week that Brock "shouldn't be playing right now," and the team even experimented with scout team quarterback Ryan Humphries briefly against Lamar. The one silver lining this week for the Bearkats is that Brock — who has won over the locker room with his toughness — should be a little healthier, and playing with a chip on his shoulder after the worst statistical performance of his SHSU career.
4. Nicholls QB Chase Fourcade said he wants "revenge" for the last time the Colonels went to SHSU and got trounced 66-17. Nicholls was the one who came out on top in 2018, though. Do the Bearkats have similar ideas of revenge going into this one?
There's no doubt that the Bearkats have revenge on their mind this week, but they're playing for much more than that.
Being upset by Lamar, as well as a close loss at North Dakota, has left Sam Houston State in a tough situation in terms of postseason aspirations. Not only do the Kats have little room for error — it's hard to see them making the playoffs with more than two Southland losses — but they also don't have a signature win yet (although their 45-6 beat down of UIW is certainly looking better, with the Cardinals going 3-0 since then).
When you consider the revenge factor, coupled with the feeling that their season is almost on the line, expect a ton of energy from the Kats on Saturday. We'll see if it's enough to give the offense a much-needed jolt.
5. Who are some key players to watch this Saturday for Sam Houston?
Keep an eye on sophomore running back Donovan Williams. While Williams hasn't been starting games, he's definitely finished them the past two weeks. He erupted for 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns — including 120 yards on 22 second-half carries — against Stephen F. Austin two weeks ago. And he was the only consistent part of the Bearkat offense down the stretch of the Lamar loss, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown after halftime. With SHSU's quarterback situation, getting the ground game going will be pivotal.
On the other side of the ball, keep an eye on the defensive line duo of Wallace and Mascorro. These two have been at the forefront of the Kats' success stopping the run — they rank fifth in the country in rushing defense — and they will need to make their presence felt if there's any hope of an upset.
Bonus: For Nicholls fans making the trip to Texas, where are the places to grab a bite before or after the game?
With Nicholls having no shortage of good Cajun food in the surrounding areas, I'll point people to one of Huntsville's highly regarded barbecue joints. Bennie J's and Walls BBQ are two personal favorites. Potato Shack is always a good choice to grab a beer and catch a game, with a variety of unique spud offerings. And if you spend the night, make sure to grab some breakfast at Cafe Texan before hitting the road back to Thibodaux.