Cajuns’ Opener Should be Fun – From the Bird’s Nest
It would have been great to concentrate on football this week.
But Isaac had other ideas.
But that has passed and now we can turn our attention to the Cajuns’ home opener Saturday against the Lamar Cardinals.
I remember a conversation I had at Sun Belt Media Day with Middle Tennessee Coach Rick Stockstill. (The Raiders open against McNeese State tonight.) He told me it’s hard to open with an FCS school, especially a good one. Fans see FCS and they think “easy win.” Then when the FCS team gives their opponent a solid game, or God forbid, wins, then the fans want an explanation.
Lamar comes in having gone 9-13 in their first two seasons after re-starting their program for the 2010 season. Ray Woodard, a former assistant at USL under the late Nelson Stokley, is the head coach and by all I’ve gathered, the fans are pretty happy with what the Cards have done so far.
The Cardinals will be playing their first game against an FBS opponent. And, the Cajuns have found it hard to prepare for what they’ll see from the Cardinals.
Lamar has changed coordinators on both sides of the football. They’ve also added some personnel that should make them considerably better, especially on offense. Junior college transfer Ryan Mossakowski takes over at quarterback. He’s got good size (6-4, 225) and was good enough in high school to sign with Kentucky before leaving for JUCO. By the way, there’s a connection with the family. Mossakowski’s sister, Sara, is a freshman volleyball player for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Most folks believe Lamar will throw it more this year. Mossakowski has a target in Oklahoma State transfer Kevin Johnson and returns Barry Ford, a junior, on the other side. But Lamar has a weapon in the backfield as well. Hershel Sims was a five star recruit out of Abilene that played at Oklahoma State last year. He played quite a bit late in the season and had 242 yards on 31 carries with two scores. He’ll be better than anyone Lamar has had so far.
Defensively, there’s a new coordinator as well and Lamar shifts from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment. Defensive end Jesse Dickson and outside linebacker Marcus Malbrough can both get to the quarterback, combining for nine sacks last season.
That defense will have its hands full on Saturday.
The Cajuns’ offense should be clicking on all cylinders right out of the gate. They have experience at every position and should be able to exploit the Lamar defense almost at will, unless the new scheme on defense causes the Cajuns a few problems early. As long as the Cajuns don’t throw it to the wrong guy or leave it on the ground, fans will enjoy watching the Cajuns offense on Saturday.
But I think Cajuns fans have a right to be concerned about the Cardinals when they’re on offense. They’ve got playmakers and they’ll be more than capable of moving the football. And, let’s remember that the Cajuns, while talented, have a lot of inexperience at a lot of positions. Especially a concern is at safety, where the Cajuns won’t be deep (T. J. Worthy is suspended for this game). Of the starters, Tig Barksdale will be playing his first game for the Cajuns, and fifth year senior Rodney Gilles has played little in his career.
I think this Cajuns defense, when all is said and done, will be a better defense than it was a year ago. But this group, because of its inexperience, will be a work in progress early in the season. They’ll thrill the fans at times and infuriate the coaches at other times. That will get better as the season goes along, but for game one, it probably means Lamar will score a little more than the fans think they will.
I think the Cajuns win this game by scoring consistently throughout and slowing down the Lamar offense in the second half.
But I won’t be surprised if this is a game going into the third quarter before Louisiana pulls away.