Ragin’ Cajuns Search For Answers After Ole Miss Loss
By Dan McDonald, Special to ESPN 1420
What’s more troubling: the fact that UL’s offensive attack is turning the ball over on a regular basis, or the fact that the defense resembles something out of what Ragin’ Cajun faithful thought was the distant past?
Both have been on display for two weeks, and it hasn’t been a pretty sight. What those Cajun fans hoped was an aberration one week earlier in a 48-20 humbling by Louisiana Tech reared its ugly head again Saturday when UL was manhandled 56-15 at Ole Miss.
Take your pick. Blame a stagnant offense that turned the ball over four times against the Rebels – and now nine times in three games – or fault a defense that allowed Ole Miss to pitch-and-catch like a backyard barbecue toss-around.
For the Cajun squad, it’s like a death penalty ... except that they’re getting to choose electric chair or lethal injection. Both produce bad results.
Saturday’s loss wasn’t unexpected. The Rebels are top-15 ranked for a reason, and they’re going to be a factor in the SEC West if quarterback Bo Wallace keeps the hot hand he’s shown in the last two weeks.
And maybe the previous week’s result won’t wind up in that proverbial “bad loss” category. Tech’s performance at Cajun Field and in a Thursday game in which the Bulldogs led North Texas 42-7 in the fourth quarter (an eventual 42-21 win) shows that Tech is a much improved team.
It’s the manner in which the Cajuns have lost that’s more disturbing. It’s surprising to see a proven offense struggle to find consistency, and it’s shocking to watch opposing receivers find huge holes in the Cajun secondary.
The injury loss of wide receiver Jamal Robinson, one that was kept quiet and one that will now rob the offense of its primary downfield weapon for a month, and the continued injury struggles of linebacker Jake Molbert and defensive end Marquis White don’t add to the comfort level.
The good news – something the Cajuns need badly right now – is that they’ve already faced the most talented and athletic team they’ll meet all year, and when the Cajuns begin Sun Belt Conference play they’ll do it against a league that was embarrassingly bad on Saturday.
Even this week’s foe, Boise State, was chewed up in the second half of its opener by Ole Miss, and the Broncos aren’t close to their glory of the last decade. BSU is 2-1, but needed two defensive touchdowns to beat a shaky UConn team last weekend in a game that was 24-21 entering the final quarter.
After that lengthy trip, the Cajuns embark on eight straight Sun Belt games, and nobody in the league has established themselves as a true title contender in the opening weekends.
UL Monroe is 2-1, but looked abysmal on offense at LSU Saturday night. The Warhawks had what appeared to be a good 17-10 win over Wake Forest to open the season, but Wake also lost badly at Utah State last Saturday and its only win is 23-7 over Gardner-Webb. ULM also had to score with nine seconds left to beat Idaho at home two weeks ago, and Idaho lost at home Saturday to a Western Michigan team that went 1-11 last year.
South Alabama was humbled 35-3 at home by Mississippi State Saturday thanks in part to four turnovers. New Mexico State was handled by UTEP. Texas State lost to Navy. Troy lost at home to FCS member Abilene Christian, a team that was 0-2.
In all, the Sun Belt went zero-and-10 Saturday. Can’t wait to see how this week’s league release spins that into something positive.
The most impressive team in the Sun Belt so far may be Georgia Southern, which could easily be 3-0 and has last-minute losses to North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. Even that’s good news for the Cajuns: UL doesn’t face Georgia Southern on this year’s conference schedule.
The reality is that conference play is now going to define this year’s Cajun team. Even with a loss to Boise, UL only needs to post a winning record in league play to become bowl eligible, and 5-3 against the league right now is far from a monumental task.
Of course, this is the same team that had everyone talking about double-digit wins and running the table in the Sun Belt only a couple of weeks ago.