Looking Back at New Orleans – From the Bird’s Nest
As Saturday turned into Sunday, the realization of what the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have accomplished really started to sink in.
And, 2014 turned out to be another special season.
Yes, the record was the same. But a team that was 1-3 and, frankly, looked bad doing it, came back to win eight out of nine.
Here are some thoughts:
WHAT, ME WORRY? So many people asked what I thought about the game and I admitted I was concerned. And, I think that concern was justified. But the Cajuns played their best sixty minutes of the entire season and made a very good Nevada offense look slow, disorganized and out of sorts. Nevada got their three points because of a special teams gaffe.
THE SECONDARY WAS PRIMARY---The Cajuns had five pass breakups during the game Saturday. They had only 22 all season heading into the bowl game. Corey Trim had one of the best games of his two year career. This group has been maligned throughout the year. They rose up on Saturday.
DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE GAME---One of the biggest plays came on a breakdown. Nevada was down 10-3. On the first play of the third quarter, quarterback Cody Fajardo threw the ball deep. Tracy Walker was beaten on the play and there was a chance a completion would have gone for a touchdown. So Walker did the smart thing. He committed pass interference. Nevada got 15 yards on the play but then went three and out. What could have been a huge momentum swing was averted. Nevada had one more first down the entire third quarter.
UNSUNG HERO--Running back Alonzo Harris. The senior was still hampered by that deep thigh bruise that caused him to miss a game earlier in the season. He appeared sparingly in the first half, carrying the ball only twice. But Harris was determined to contribute and had one big carry after another in the second half. He didn't have the most yards but he had the most crucial ones.
DOUBLE TROUBLE---Sometimes statistics tell the story. Sometimes they're really misleading. Justin Hamilton and Christian Ringo combined for just four tackles on Saturday. But they were the disruptive force that made Nevada's offense look mostly inept. Coach Brian Polian said afterward the two were even better than they thought. Yes they were.
AND, SPEAKING OF RINGO....He set a new single season sack record with his last play as a Ragin' Cajuns. The man whose record he broke, Jeffrey Mitchell, is the Louisiana State Trooper who is on the sidelines for every game, home and away. After the game, he presented Ringo with the game ball. Jeffrey Mitchell was a great player but is an even greater guy. But if you meet him, do not shake hands with him. You have been warned.
34,014--We knew Nevada wasn't going to sell a lot of tickets. And, we knew the early time slot, high hotel rates and the like would mean fewer Cajuns' fans would be in attendance. Yet with all that, it was the fourth highest attendance in New Orleans Bowl history. See at the end of the bowl season how many bowls that do not have a team from a Power 5 conference have better attendance than that.
BARGAIN SHOPPING---I mentioned this on my radio show the week of the bowl game. Hotel rates came down considerably the week prior to the game. Hotels had jacked up rates, especially for Saturday expecting a huge demand between UL and Falcons fans. But fewer than expected were booking and there were bargains to be found game week. If that happens again, you might want to keep that in mind.
BOWL GROWTH---I remember the first time the Cajuns played in the R+L Carriers New
Orleans Bowl. There weren't a whole lot of folks in the city that knew the game existed or that the Cajuns were playing in it. But when the crowds started showing and the tourist dollars came rolling, people took notice. This year when I showed up on Wednesday night, the clerk at the hotel welcomed me and asked if I was here for the game. And, I can't tell you how many people at the Saints game yesterday offered congratulations on another bowl victory. One said "Hey at least we have one team that knows how to win."
AND, THE BURGERS ARE GOOD, TOO---Kudos to our friends at Walk-Ons for the novel idea of printing up red tee shirts to sell during bowl week. The shirts had the Walk-Ons logo with the #1 sports bar designation. The front said "You 'Hud' Me at Hello." They sold out of the shirts, which cost $20 each.
IT'S WHY YOU GO TO SCHOOL...REALLY.....The Cajuns once again held graduation ceremonies at the Marriott on Friday. Dr. Savoie, athletics director Scott Farmer and coach Hud were all in full academic regalia to honor those on the team who fulfilled their academic requirements. The Cajuns had a 2.92 GPA this semester, the best in school history. One thing the Cajuns coaches in all sports have in common is they believe school is a priority. Imagine that.
FUSELIER ON THE TACKLE--The PA announcer misidentified Sean Thomas, calling him
by the name of the Cajuns' slot receiver. Both wear number 24. And, that underscores the problem with duplicate numbers. There are seventeen duplicate numbers on the Cajuns' roster, and all but one are numbers between 2-28. If you're going to have duplicate numbers, it's imperative that you at least try and make sure one of the guys isn't going to see much, if any, action. It's especially troubling when a duplicate number plays special teams. C'mon man.
RED IS THE SCHOOL COLOR---Well, actually, it's vermilion. But you get the point. After incorporating black pants and helmets into the wardrobe, not to mention those hideous black jerseys that are only readable if you're watching TV, kudos to Coach Hudspeth for coming out in red jerseys, pants, helmets and shoes. And, in keeping with his policy, the helmets with "Ragin' Cajuns" on it were worn for national television. My guess is all that was more identifiable and easier to relate to than anything else the Cajuns could have worn (although all white is still my personal favorite.)
THANKS, TIM---Cajuns secondary coach Tim Rebowe coached in his last game with the Cajuns as he's now taken over as the head coach at Nicholls State. Rebowe is the only coach to participate in every season of Sun Belt football. He's been an outstanding recruiter for the Cajuns and a coach that spent eleven years at Louisiana. Everyone, and I mean everyone who knows Tim Rebowe is hoping he'll have great success as a head coach. Goodness knows he's earned the opportunity.
C'MON ESPN---Ok, I may not be as incredibly militant as some, but I am the first person to start referring to the Cajuns as Louisiana. But by now the worldwide leader should know it's never "Lafayette." And, if they need a reason why, the Lafayette Leopards logo that was used at times during the broadcast should do it. And if Mack Brown doesn't know the difference between the Cajuns and Louisiana-Monroe, then he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a microphone. All this does is show the ignorance of a company that, after more than 15 years, should know better. Yes, UL could have done a better job from the beginning. And, part of the responsibility goes to the conference office for their silly hyphen and the like. But the majority of the blame lies right at the feet of a network that, after three gazillion emails and phone calls, ought to be able to get it right.
WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? IT'S BOURBON STREET---Yes that's a goat.