The assessment of Levi Lewis’ first performance in a UL-Lafayette uniform didn’t change much after Ragin’ Cajuns coaches broke down the film of Saturday’s 19-14 Sun Belt Conference win at South Alabama.
“I thought for a first game, Levi showed an awful lot of poise,” head coach Mark Hudspeth said Monday. “You can talk about his running or his passing, but I think the thing that was most impressive was his poise in the pocket and how he extended plays. He kept his eyes downfield. He’s looking for a strike downfield, and not just looking to tuck it and run.”
The true freshman from Scotlandville was the surprise starter at quarterback against the Jaguars, and he ran for 129 yards and throwing for a pair of touchdowns in his first collegiate appearance. Before last week, the commonly held feeling was that Lewis, last year’s Advocate All-Metro 5A-4A Offensive MVP, would be redshirted to preserve eligibility for future seasons.
That changed abruptly Saturday, partially because starter Jordan Davis and backup Andre Nunez have suffered through injuries and inconsistency. Nunez was in concussion protocol after the 47-3 debacle loss at Arkansas State two weeks ago and couldn't play against South Alabama.
Lewis, who less than a year ago was leading Scotlandville to its first LHSAA state championship game, worked with the No. 1 offense beginning last Tuesday. He led the Cajuns to a 19-0 first-half lead and took every snap for an offense that had zero turnovers and 264 rushing yards.
“For the most part we didn’t change a lot,” Hudspeth said. “We probably ran the quarterback a little more with him, some quarterback runs that we hadn’t been doing quite as much. That was a wrinkle we already had in; we just hadn’t used that part of the playbook.
“We tried to temper the playbook a little bit to fit what he does, but as far as adding or changing things, the playbook itself won’t change. He’s been repping those plays some throughout the year and in scrimmages.”
Lewis’ presence sparked an offense that was anemic against A-State and helped the Cajuns — who were a one-touchdown underdog — win for the third time in four games to even their record at 4-4. Hudspeth didn’t hesitate when asked whether Lewis’ status would change for Saturday’s 11 a.m. nonconference game at Ole Miss.
“Levi will start this week,” Hudspeth said. “Another week under his belt hopefully will help, another week at practice and another week of preparation will help.”
Saturday’s win left the Cajuns at 3-2 in Sun Belt Conference play with three games remaining. Perhaps more important, it put the squad two wins from bowl eligibility. After Ole Miss, the Cajuns host New Mexico State (4-5, 2-3) and Georgia Southern (0-8, 0-4) in back-to-back home games before traveling to face Appalachian State (5-3, 4-1) in the Dec. 2 regular-season finale.
South Alabama suffered its sixth loss and a major hit to its postseason hopes.
“That was a big game for both teams,” Hudspeth said, “but I thought our team had the right mindset. Our seniors and some of our leaders really stepped up. There was a lot of intensity in that locker room; all week in practice there was a great focus, and there was a sense of urgency in everything we did. We had a little chip on our shoulder.”
The Sun Belt has five bowl tie-ins. Only one team (Troy at 7-2) has reached six wins; A-State, Appalachian State and Georgia State all have five.
The Cajuns scored on four straight possessions in Saturday’s first half with drives of 34, 87, 46 and 77 yards resulting in two touchdowns and two field goals. In the second half, however, UL-Lafayette was held to four first downs — three of them on third-down carries by Trey Ragas — and didn’t have a drive of more than 38 yards.
“It wasn’t that we were trying to hold onto a lead,” Hudspeth said. “We definitely weren’t up enough to try to hold onto the lead. We had some execution breakdowns. We felt like we left a lot of yardage and some points on the field. We moved it pretty effectively; it was just a lack of execution at different spots.
“We have to be way more consistent in our execution, especially when you need that one more score to put that game away and couldn’t quite do it.”
Red zone success
UL-Lafayette ranks second nationally in red-zone success, scoring on 31 of 32 trips inside the 20-yard-line (a .969 percentage). No. 2 Georgia leads the country at 35 of 36 (.972), and Arizona State is third at 30 of 31 (.968).
The Cajuns would be a perfect 32 of 32 had it not been for their final possession Saturday, when Ragas was stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the USA 11 with 2:26 left. One play earlier, Lewis appeared to pick up a clinching first down but was spotted inches short.
Replay appeared to show Lewis rolling over the backs of two USA defenders on the ground and not hitting the Ladd-Peebles Stadium turf until he was past the first-down marker, but a lengthy review upheld the spot and set up the fourth-down play.