Three is nice, but four is better.
The Louisiana-Lafayette football team capped its fourth consecutive nine-win season by winning its fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl, beating Nevada 16-3 in front of 34,014 on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And this time, they did it with defense.
The Cajuns (9-4) suffocated a potent Nevada (7-6) offense, limiting the Wolf Pack to 213 yards and three points — their lowest scoring output since they were shut out by Notre Dame in the 2009 season opener.
“As a coach, you’re always waiting to see how your team’s going to play,” said Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, who improved to 4-0 in bowl games as a head coach. “A lot of times, the preparation you put in determines how your team’s going to play. I think that was four quarters of possibly the best football we’ve played this year. Our kids played hard, (and) they played sound.”
The game was billed as a matchup of offensive heavyweights, and it certainly looked like that storyline would play out after the Cajuns’ first drive.
They covered 77 yards in eight plays, ripping off gains of 10 or more yards on five of those plays. Senior quarterback Terrance Broadway threw a dart over the middle to sophomore C.J. Bates to give the Cajuns a 7-0 lead.
“We came out smoking hot,” Hudspeth said.
It appeared the fast start touchdown would set the tone for a fast-paced, high-scoring game. But the offensive juggernauts didn’t even combine to reach 20 points.
After the fast start, the Cajuns couldn’t find ways to finish drives in the end zone. Kicker Hunter Stover drilled three of his four field-goal attempts — including a career-long 46-yarder that might have been good from 55 — to provide most of the scoring.
But they didn’t need to score a bunch of touchdowns with the way their defense played.
“We just had everybody do their job,” said senior linebacker Jake Molbert, who finished with four tackles and a tackle for loss. “We just played lights out. It was a great team win.”
Nevada entered the game scoring 31.3 points per game, and the Wolf Pack scored at least 20 points in its first 12 games.
“You hold a team that’s scoring that many points to three points, I’ve got to give our kids and coaches credit,” Hudspeth said.
The Cajuns’ plan to slow quarterback Cody Fajardo — and thus, the Nevada offense — worked magnificently.
The Cajuns brought pressure up the middle with big senior defensive linemen Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton, whom Nevada coach Brian Polian said were “better players than I thought, quite frankly.”
The Cajuns finished with four sacks, two of which came on the game’s final two plays. But they were often in Fajardo’s face, forcing him to take a hit just after he released the ball.
“We wanted to get a little more pressure on him, and it paid off,” Hudspeth said.
They contained the edge, limiting Fajardo’s scrambling skills, and played solid man-to-man coverage on the perimeter.
Fajardo completed just 14 of 29 passes, and none of his completions went for more than 16 yards. He flashed his escape skills on occasion, but his legs barely factored into the game; the Cajuns limited him to 49 yards on 13 attempts.
The Cajuns also played defense with their offense, just as Hudspeth said they would try to do. They enjoyed a monstrous advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for nearly a full quarter of the game longer than Nevada.
“We had the ball almost 37 minutes,” Hudspeth said. “That was part of the plan, trying to keep the ball out of (Fajardo’s) hands.”
The Cajuns put together three drives that required 11 or more plays, and the only one that didn’t result in a score came at the end of the first half when a sack knocked the Cajuns out of field-goal range.
And it wasn’t just a ground-oriented attack, either. Polian said his goal was to make Broadway beat Nevada with his arm, “to make him play left-handed.”
Broadway obliged. He completed his first 14 passes, the most consecutive completions to start a game in bowl history, and went on to complete 26 of 31 passes for 227 yards and a score, earning game MVP honors.
The Cajuns had a plan. And not only did they stick with it, they executed it well.
The result was the Cajuns’ best four-quarter performance of the year in their most important game.