From the Bird’s Nest: That’s Six, if You’re Counting
With four of their last five games on the road, it was important for Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns to take care of their home business during the three-game homestand completed this past Saturday against North Texas.
The Cajuns' hard-fought 30-10 win over the Mean Green was the sixth straight in an amazing run that has seen Louisiana vault to the top of the Sun Belt standings at 4-0. The Cajuns haven't been 6-1 since the '70s, and the sixth consecutive win hasn't happened since 1993 when a freshman named Jake Delhomme rallied the Cajuns from an 0-2 start on the way to an 8-3 record.
Despite the score, this one wasn't easy. The Cajuns led only 13-10 going into the fourth quarter, but put the game away with three scores, while holding North Texas scoreless in the second half.
In a blog last week, I mentioned the five things the Cajuns had to do in order to be victorious. The Cajuns accomplished about three and a half of the five. I didn't think their focus was very good in the first half, and Blaine Gautier was sacked once for every six times he dropped back. But the Cajuns certainly had focus in the second half, they totally shut down Lance Dunbar and did a good job pressuring the quarterback.
So, now it's time to go on the road. The Cajuns will get a taste of fall this weekend in Bowling Green when they take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Temps Friday night at the team headquarters in Nashville will be down around 35 degrees. It'll be a little warmer Saturday, with a high in the mid 60's.
Let's take a look at the ups and downs from this week's game.
THE CAJUNS' DEFENSE--Well, duh. Louisiana's defense was stellar all night long. Impressive that they held North Texas scoreless in the second half. But here's something even more impressive. Up until the final drive, North Texas had two first downs and 38 yards of offense in the second half. They went three and out six times. Their only drive (31 yards) resulted in a missed field goal.
LANCE KELLEY--He's the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week--again. Kelley had eight tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in the Cajuns' win. Who would have thought Kelley would wind up an All-Conference linebacker? He's got work to do to achieve that, but if the vote was held today, he'd be a first-teamer.
BLANE GAUTIER--He's now ninth in the country in passing efficiency. This week's numbers: 14-20, 238 yards, four touchdowns. He's now gone 118 consecutive passes without a pick and has ten touchdowns and just one interception this year. Not bad for a guy who barely played in three of the seven games this season.
PENALTY YARDAGE DOWN--The Cajuns were flagged just three times for 25 yards. That's two weeks in a row that this number goes down.
THE CAJUNS' SECONDARY--One of the places where the Cajuns had a distinct advantage was UNT's wideouts vs. the Cajuns' secondary. It proved to be a prophecy. Seven pass breakups and three of them were close to interceptions.
ANYONE SEEN LANCE?--Mr. Dunbar had 19 carries for 53 yards. His longest run from scrimmage was nine yards. That doesn't happen often.
32, 823--The largest crowd ever to see a Sun Belt Conference game made plenty of noise on Saturday. Imagine what the crowd would have been if the 3,000 who stayed in the parking lot would have entered the stadium.
NOTHING SPECIAL--The Cajuns were beaten in the kicking game for the first time since Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Cajuns' kick-return game was non-existent on Saturday, with Louisiana starting inside its 20 yard line on two of the three kickoffs. Will Atterberry's punting was stellar. Darryl Surgent had one good punt return, but also fumbled a punt. Brett Baer missed an extra point for the first time in his career. A blocked field goal and a Baer punt that went out at the one yard line were the high points. (And, remember, Surgent's fumble came on the punt after Baer's masterpiece.)
THE O-LINE--After two very solid performances, these guys took a step back on Saturday. They allowed four sacks, got hit with a holding penalty, and the Cajuns' running backs only had one carry that went for more than ten yards. Give North Texas a lot of credit for that. But these guys can, and have to, play better.
DON'T DROP THE POTATO--Qyen Griffen fumbled on his second carry of the game. It's not the first time he's done it. Hold onto the football.
LANCE KELLEY--Lance, you've become a helluva football player. But please quit acting like an ass when you do something good. A little self-discipline can go a long way.
A SECOND GUESS--I love the fact that Mark Hudspeth is willing to live close to the edge. I'll love it even more when the running game is good enough to where going for it on fourth and less than a yard from your own 29 yard line becomes an automatic first down.
No Sun Belt team has ever started a season 6-1...until now.
No Sun Belt school has ever had 30,000 fans for a league game...until now.
No Sun Belt team has ever been bowl eligible after seven games....until now.
Enjoy the win. But there's still lots of work to do, and more heights to reach.