From the Bird’s Nest: A Look Back at FAU
As in four straight.
As in 4-1.
I have to admit, I was pretty nervous before the game. Games that you're not supposed to win, (read: games where you're the underdog) don't usually affect me that way. But games that you're SUPPOSED to win, well, those make me a little tight.
I told someone before the game that this was a quarter of a million dollar game. I looked at it this way: We would have 25-30 thousand for the game Saturday (it was a little over 26,000). If you win, you get 30 thousand for Troy (the Trojans will bring some fans). And, even if you don't win that game, you have homecoming the following week and you'll have 25,000. Beat Troy and it's even more.
But lose to FAU and your crowd is down to 21-22 thousand for Troy. Lose that one and you'd be lucky to get 20 for homecoming. That's a difference (on the high end) of about 15,000 in attendance. General admission tickets on gameday are sixteen dollars. Do the math. And then, figure out the difference in concession sales and beer sales.
That's what I call a BIG win.
At any rate, the Cajuns took care of their business. They didn't cover. But they won.
And for me, there's no such thing as winning ugly. When you're 81-140 (the Cajuns' record since I joined the radio broadcasts), every win is beautiful.
Funny, I'm sure there were folks who, when FAU scored twice in a six minute span to tie the game, who thought this one would slip away. Honestly, I never felt that way. I truly believed the Cajuns would win the football game. In regulation. On a field goal. (Now, I thought it would be from further away than 26 yards.)
That was about as good as a two -minute drill can be run. Start at your own 26. 1:48 to go. No timeouts. Ten plays, 65 yards. The Cajuns faced third down only once during the drive, and that's when Blane Gautier completed the pass to Ian Thompson to move the ball to the FAU 9. The Cajuns were well within Brett Baer's field goal range by then. The only incomplete pass during that drive was on the play before the pass to Thompson.
A true thing of beauty.
With the win, the Cajuns' are within two games of bowl eligibility with seven remaining.
Now, let's look at some ups and downs from Saturday's game:
Blaine Gautier was superb again. He had the lost fumble which led to an FAU field goal, but completed 26-33 passes for a career-high 329 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception for the fourth straight game. He also rushed for 31 net yards. Boy, he looks confident out there. And, his execution of the two-minute offense was just what you want a quarterback to do. Plenty of poise. Plenty of leadership. Plenty of accuracy.
Harry Peoples had a coming-out party with 12 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. He had a fumble after a 30 yard gain, but other than that, he was about perfect. The 12 catches were the most in a game by a Cajun since Brandon Stokley. That's only fitting, since the one-handed grab he made on the final drive was Stokley-esque.
The freshmen running backs combined for 95 yards and two scores. They didn't average four yards per carry, and the longest run was ten yards. But they ran tough. I like tough.
The Cajuns' kickoff coverage was much, much better. FAU only started past the 30 yard line after a kickoff once, and that was when the Cajuns' sky kicked after Brett Baer's second field goal. (Some have criticized that call. I thought it was a good one. With the Cajuns up by two scores, the only thing that's going to get FAU back in the game is a long kickoff return or a big play. Unfortunately, they gave up the big play, a 37-yard pass which allowed them to score quickly.)
Brett Baer missed his first two field goal attempts. He made his last three, including the game winner. After having never missed a kick as a Cajun, it would have been easy for him to go in the tank after missing two in a row. He didn't. That's toughness right there.
Ladarius Green caught three passes for 44 yards, but it was his blocking on the bubble screens that enabled Peoples to have a big night. Green isn't known for his blocking. He doesn't get enough credit for his abilities in that department.
Alfred Morris has had big games against the Cajuns. Saturday he carried 19 times for 80 net yards. Thirty-one of those came on one play. Overall, the Cajuns' defense did a good job in an area where they had to shine.
Another pretty solid performance by the O-line, who didn't draw a penalty, allowed just one sack and opened enough holes for the Cajuns to rush for over 100 yards.
The Cajuns defense held FAU to just 2-14 on third down.
Another 100 yards in penalties. The Cajuns are the most-penalized team in the Sun Belt Conference and that has to get better. As I said last week, that's going to cost them a victory somewhere down the road if it isn't cleaned up. The biggest culprit was special teams, where the Cajuns were hit for roughing the kicker, a late hit out of bounds, kick catch interference and a holding penalty. That's 55 yards. And, that doesn't count an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was declined. Only one penalty was called on the offense (a holding call against Green.)
The Owls had only two plays over twenty yards all season. The Cajuns allowed five of them Saturday, two on the final two drives. You have to make the other team earn what they get. While the defense performed admirably for a good part of the game, it's disconcerting when a team that can't make the big play makes five of them.
The Cajuns chose to rush three and play zone in the last two drives. I don't usually second-guess, but that decision turned out not to be a good one.
The Cajuns were -1 in the turnover department. It's the first time they've lost the turnover battle this year.
The Cajuns' third down conversion percentage continues to be poor. UL was just 5-15 on third down Saturday and five of them were five yards or less to go. That has to get better. The Cajuns did not convert a third down that was more than three yards.
And, the officials get mentioned here as well. The late hit call against Bill Bentley was shaky. And, the "forward progress was stopped" call after a sack and fumble at the FAU ten-yard line was downright awful. That falls under the "CYOA" category.
At the end of the day, it's 4-1. The second of three straight home games is this Saturday night against Cajun Field against Troy. Despite the record, there are many around the league that question how good the Cajuns are. They have a chance to answer that question this Saturday.