After Saturday’s 16-3 loss in the New Orleans Bowl, Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo said he could find only one positive.
At least his offense was inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and therefore wasn’t forced to stand in the cold.
Simply put, there weren’t many positives in the Wolf Pack’s offensive performance against Louisiana-Lafayette. They managed only 213 yards from scrimmage and struggled through their first single-digit scoring performance of the season.
It didn’t help, Fajardo said, that he and the offense stood on the sideline for long stretches as UL-Lafayette played keep-away.
“It takes a while to get back, especially when you’re driving, then there’s a sudden change,” Fajardo said. “When they have the ball for five or six minutes, it’s hard to get back out there and get your legs going.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns held onto the ball for nearly 37 minutes — the highest possession time in New Orleans Bowl history — compared to 23 minutes for the Wolf Pack.
“Give Louisiana all the credit. They made all the plays and didn’t do the things to shoot themselves in the foot,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “I’m proud of our defense for he way they competed, but I’m not going to say we played perfectly.”
Nevada came into Saturday’s matchup with the 110th-ranked rush defense in the nation, and that weakness was on display against UL-Lafayette’s potent rushing attack.
In Nevada’s five losses this season, they’ve allowed opponents to run for an average of 230 yards per game. The Cajuns only gained 184 rushing yards Saturday, but their 43 rushing attempts kept the clock moving and made it difficult for the Wolf Pack to gain any momentum offensively.
“It’s hard to get going as an offense when you’re off the field for so long,” said Nevada running back Don Jackson, who finished with 10 carries for 31 yards. “It just didn’t work out for us.”
UL-Lafayette came into Saturday’s game the 26th-ranked rushing team in the nation, a unit that thrived on a balanced attack from three different players who eclipsed 600 yards this season. Those three players — Quarterback Terrance Broadway and running backs Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris — combined for all but 8 yards of the UL-Lafayette rushing total on the day.
Each had at least 13 carries, and McGuire led the trio with 16 carries for 99 yards.
The effectiveness of the running game allowed Broadway to exploit the Wolf Pack defense with the short passing game. He completed a New Orleans Bowl-recored 14 consecutive throws to start the game and finished 26-of-31 for 227 yards and a touchdown.
While Broadway only completed two passes of 20 or more yards the entire game, Nevada’s increased attention on stopping the run allowed the Ragin’ Cajuns to continue getting first downs with horizontal passes.
“He certainly didn’t beat us throwing the ball,” Polian said. “They were dinks and dunks. We felt like if we forced them to go 12, 13, 14 plays, that we would have a chance to get off the field.”
UL-Lafayette put together three drives of 10 or more plays, and though they only resulted in six points, the Ragin’ Cajuns held onto the ball for long periods of time and foiled Nevada’s opportunities to make plays on UL-Lafayette’s side of the field.
Each of those three long drives began inside the UL-Lafayette 11-yard line, but each of them ended on the Nevada side of the field.
“While we made some plays defensively at the end of those drives, we allowed them to change the field position when we had them pinned back,” Polian said. “We played hard all the way through. It wasn’t physical; it was just a matter of the little details.”
The most damaging of those drives came midway through the third quarter. The Ragin’ Cajuns converged on a clock-eating 15-play, 77-drive — which included seven runs and eight short passes — and took 7:25 off the clock before the drive ended with a Hunter Stover 30-yard field goal to take a 13-3 lead with 11:51 left in the game.
UL-Lafayette began the game with a ball-control strategy and executed it to perfection. The Cajuns ran on 13 of their 20 first-quarter offensive plays and gashed the Wolf Pack for 68 yards, which assisted them in holding onto the ball for over 10 of the 15 minutes in the quarter. The two Ragin’ Cajun drives in the first quarter resulted in 10 points, which would end up being more than what UL-Lafayette needed.
“We came into the game saying we had to stop the run. It’s hard to look back at the numbers and say we got blown up,” Polian said. “We said if Broadway was going to beat us, he had to throw it. The first drive, we saw a lot of unbalanced (lines), and we just had to get into the rhythm of the game.
“We gave up that touchdown, but the rest of the game, we gave up nine points.”
It was still too many.