SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Senior center Dustin Burns neatly summed up the Northwestern State offensive line’s approach to Saturday’s Southland Conference game at No. 20 UIW.
In four words, Burns delivered what could be the motto for the entire group of Demons (0-7, 0-4) as they prepare for the 4 p.m. kickoff against the Cardinals (5-2, 4-1).
“Just get it done,” Burns said.
Despite a 31-30 loss to then-No. 13 Central Arkansas on Oct. 19, Northwestern State brings some confidence with it as the Demons prepare to face their fourth straight nationally ranked opponent and sixth ranked foe of the season.
“(UCA coach) Nathan (Brown) and I talked about it before the game last week, week in and week out, home or road, in this conference you have to be ready to play,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “Whether you’re 0-7 or 7-0, it doesn’t matter. Our guys have seen what we’ve been able to do when we play like we’re capable of playing. We have the confidence to go compete with anybody.”
The Demons’ passing game has instilled a large part of that confidence throughout the season.
Senior wide receivers Quan Shorts (66 catches, 635 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Akile Davis (40-528-4) have built one of the top receiving duos in the country and in the Southland Conference. Shorts’ reception total includes three games with double-figure catches and the first run of three straight 100-yard receiving games in program history.
Shorts needs eight catches against the Cardinals to establish a new school single-season record.
While Northwestern State has proven able to throw the ball throughout the season, the Demons’ defense took a step forward against Central Arkansas, forcing a season-high four turnovers. The first two led directly to 14 points and helped NSU build a pair of 14-point first-half leads against the Bears.
Turnovers could play a key part in Saturday’s matchup.
The four turnovers the Demons forced against Central Arkansas moved NSU to a plus-1 turnover margin in its seven games. UIW, meanwhile, is plus-13 in turnover margin and has forced an FCS-best 23 turnovers.
Those turnovers help fuel a Cardinals offense that features preseason second-team all-conference quarterback Jon Copeland.
“What we’ve seen a lot, and we talked about it before the conference season, is a lot of teams have their quarterback back,” Laird said. “That’s no different with Copeland. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. It will be no different than Central Arkansas. For our guys, it’s the ability to prepare and focus for 60 minutes. This game will be more about us than our opponent.”
The trip to San Antonio kicks off a two-game road swing for the Demons, who will alternate away and home games beginning with a Nov. 2 trip to McNeese.
It also will mark a new venue for all but one member of the Demons’ roster. Fifth-year senior offensive lineman Chris Zirkle is the only active member of the NSU roster who traveled to Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium for the 2015 matchup with the Cardinals.
“It’s always fun to go to places you haven’t been on the road,” Laird said. “I researched what to expect. You look to see where the hotel is, how far it is from the stadium, where to eat. It’s fun to go to different spots, see different things.”