From the Bird’s Nest: Ambushed
At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Cajuns would have a 4-8 record. Thankfully, I was dead wrong.
However, that prediction was based on what I expected this Cajuns team to look like.
And, don't look now, but that team showed up this past Saturday.
Offensively and defensively, this is what I expected the Cajuns to be.
I expected they'd struggle mightily to run the football. After not being able to run it last year and, with little experience returning, the fact they've had some success over the first seven games has been a pleasant surprise.
I expected they'd struggle to stop the run. But the switch to the 3-4 defense, along with very good linebacker play, has made this a better defensive team than I expected.
But this past Saturday, the Cajuns were who I thought they were.
In last week's blog, I wrote, as I always do, about things the Cajuns needed to do to come back from Bowling Green with a win over Western Kentucky. And, the Cajuns did none of it.
They didn't get off to a good start. They didn't slow Bobby Rainey down. They put no pressure on the quarterback. The Cajuns were marginally better on third down, but not great. Andrew Jackson had eleven tackles. And, the Cajuns did nothing special in the kicking game.
But, Saturday, it started with the Cajuns' inability to run the football.
Take away Aaron Spikes' 79 yard touchdown run and the Cajuns had 20 carries for 61 yards. That won't cut it.
The Cajuns ran into an inspired football team. You won't convince me that WKU is a better football team than the Cajuns are. But they were inspired and they were prepared. And, when the Hilltoppers marched down the field and scored on their first possession, it didn't bode well for the good guys.
Still, UL scored just before halftime and trailed by only four. And, they got the ball first to start the second half. But the Cajuns managed just one first down on that drive and had to punt.
The Cajuns defense held WKU three-and-out on two straight possessions to open the second half. But the third time was the charm. Bobby Rainey ran for twelve yards and Kawuan Jakes hit Dexter Haynes for a 37 yard gain. Still, WKU was going to be faced with third and six from the Cajuns' 43 yard line, but a stupid personal foul penalty gave the Toppers a first down and they finished off the 94 yard drive.
And, essentially finished off the Cajuns.
Here are the ups and downs from Saturday's game
THE RECEIVERS--Harry Peoples and Javone Lawson both went over 100 yards receiving in the game. Those two and Ladarius Green combined for 26 catches, 301 yards and two scores. But even with that, Peoples and Alonzo Harris had drops on the first possession of the third quarter.
BLAINE SHARP AGAIN--Gautier had another fine game. His streak of passes without an interception ended late in the game, but even that was a pretty good throw. But the Cajuns won't win if Gautier has to throw it 50 times, as he did Saturday.
And, you know what? That's about all the good from Saturday.
OFFENSIVE LINE TOOK A STEP BACK--There was nowhere to run. The Cajuns O-line got whipped Saturday. And whipped soundly.
DUMB PENALTIES--Two more personal foul penalties on the Cajuns. Louisiana managed to overcome the one on Jeron Odom, who hit a WKU player well after the whistle. But the one on Melvin White was a killer.
DEFENSE--Again, whipped on the line of scrimmage by a WKU offensive front that starts only one senior. Bobby Rainey made the Cajuns' defense look silly.
WHY TWO?--I don't second guess coaches decisions. But when the Cajuns lined up for a two point conversion after scoring early in the fourth quarter, I shook my head. It was just too early in a game where the other team was moving the football to be going for two. And it bit the Cajuns later. UL had a fourth and goal from the 16 yard line on its next possession. Had they kicked the point earlier, they could have gone for a field goal to cut the lead to eight. Instead they were forced to go for it.
NO FOURTH QUARTER MAGIC--The Cajuns have taken pride on being the best team in the fourth quarter. They weren't on Saturday. Not by a long shot. The Cajuns scored early in the quarter to cut the lead to 28-23. And WKU promptly came right back, returning the ensuing kickoff to the 46 yard line. This was the drive where the ball bounced off Lance Kelley's hands into the arms of Jack Doyle to the one yard line. Doyle was five yards in the clear.
INJURIES--The Cajuns suffered three significant ones on Saturday. Qyen Griffen literally knocked himself out making a play on special teams and suffered a concussion. Don't know when he'll be back. And, Louisiana suffered two significant injuries in the kicking game, losing kickoff specialist Hunter Stover and deep-snapper Matt Rosenbalm to knee injuries. I'll be very surprised if we see any more of either of them the rest of the season. Those are two really bad losses for the Cajuns' special teams.
I've said all season, even during the streak, that this was a team that had a small margin for error. And, that was illustrated in a big way on Saturday. This team is good enough to beat anyone in the league when they're playing well....and capable of losing to anyone in the league if they do not.
Another road contest this week against a Middle Tennessee squad that will be a very tough test for the Cajuns' defense. I don't know how that one will unfold. But I do know this:
I'd just as soon not see last Saturday's team any more this season.
I'd much rather be wrong.