LAFAYETTE — If you only watched the Ragin’ Cajuns offense march up and down the field like it was 2012, you would have had to have figured they’d run away with a game against a two-win New Mexico State team Saturday.
But then you would’ve been woken up from that pleasant dream to the nightmare reality that has been the 2015 season.
It’s not one of those gruesome dreams depicted in Hollywood horror flicks, some iteration of Murphy’s Law unfolding in the most grotesque way possible. Instead, it’s almost been worse, one where you’re pumping your arms as fast as they can possibly go, but your legs don’t follow suit.
The Cajuns simply can’t get their arms and legs to move in harmony, and the nightmare drags on.
“One side shows up ... and the other side doesn’t play very well,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We can’t get both sides to show up consistently at the same game.”
That offense was operating at pretty close to peak proficiency. Elijah McGuire, for the first time in more than a month, looked like himself. Jamal Robinson looked like something better than himself for the second straight week. Brooks Haack was doing all the things that the Cajuns coaches and fans thought he could do when he was first given the keys to the offense this season.
The defense, though? The one that looked like it was rounding into form after at least giving the team a chance to win in the past three games?
Look, New Mexico State is not a bad offensive team, despite its record. It has put up its fair share of points and has arguably the best player in the Sun Belt Conference, running back Larry Rose III.
But in a game the Cajuns absolutely needed to have, in a game where the offense finally started pulling its weight after working more like an anchor to the Cajuns’ bowl hopes in the past month, the defense fell flat.
The Cajuns gave up 37 points to New Mexico State in a game where they scored 34. They allowed nearly 500 yards and, worst of all, they allowed the Aggies to come back late in the fourth quarter after the Cajuns offense had taken control of the game.
That’s not to say the offense doesn’t share complicity in the loss. It had two cracks at drives to either put New Mexico State away or win the game late in the fourth quarter, and the results were 4 yards in five plays and a game-ending turnover.
But the defense had a shot to make up for its earlier failings when it was given a seven-point lead to hang onto with 6:27 to go. It gave up 10 points.
“I was disappointed with our defensive effort,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got to find a way to do a better job coaching our defensive guys. ... We can’t give up some big plays like we did tonight.”
Unfortunately for the Cajuns, this has been the modus operandi this season, which is what has made it so frustrating for coaches, players and fans alike.
This is a team that, in the same 60-minute span, is simultaneously impressive and difficult to watch. And it’s not just split down offensive and defensive lines. It’s been a Jekyll-and-Hyde act across the spectrum.
Remember the first 30 minutes of football the Cajuns played this season? They were among the most lousy they have played in a while, falling into a huge hole against what has proved to be a mediocre to bad Kentucky team.
Remember the next 30 minutes? The Cajuns looked the part of a Southeastern Conference team. They bullied Kentucky on offense and came up with crucial stops on defense, nearly pulling out the win.
Who would’ve thought that would be the script the team would follow for the rest of the season? One half ugly, one half brilliant — not limited strictly to measures of time.
As hard as the Cajuns have tried to run from whatever demon is chasing them this season — and they’ve tried hard — it has been gaining on them since the year started, and it’s looking more and more like it’ll catch them before they wake up.