LAFAYETTE — The Cajuns struggled to move the ball against Appalachian State last weekend, but that problem was made worse by their failure to cash in the limited scoring opportunities they had in their 35-16 loss.
The Cajuns made three trips to the Mountaineers’ red zone and had another drive that started at the Appalachian State 21-yard line, but came away with only one touchdown.
It was the difference in a game in which the Cajuns trailed by only one score in the fourth quarter.
“We left 12 points on the field,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “If we would’ve scored touchdowns instead of field goals, we’d have been up 28-21 at the end of the third quarter. Just with that. That was the difference in the football game.
“Getting down there and kicking three field goals down 21-16, or scoring three times and being up 28-21. Big difference. Totally different game. That is a point of emphasis that we’ve got to correct.”
Some credit has to go to the Appalachian State defense, which was able to clamp down on the Cajuns when they neared the goal line, but the Cajuns’ offense merits a deeper look as well. Both players and coaches took their share of the blame after the loss.
“We had opportunities, we just didn’t make plays as a whole offensive unit, starting with myself,” quarterback Terrance Broadway said after the loss. “In order for us to be a successful offensive team, all 11 guys have to be clicking on one page.
“If one guy is not clicking on the same page as the other 10 guys, it’s hard to score points on a defense that’s been challenging for us all game.”
The red-zone offense has been productive this season when looked at as a whole, but it hasn’t always been successful producing touchdowns, especially lately.
When counting field goals, the Cajuns lead the Sun Belt and rank in the top-10 nationally in red-zone scoring percentage. They’ve had 48 opportunities inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and have come away with points on 44 of those — a 91.7 percent clip.
But that success rate drops drastically when considering how many times they’ve crossed the goal line. The Cajuns are scoring touchdowns on just 62.5 percent of their red-zone possessions, good for a middling rank in the SBC.
That 62.5 percent rating drops down to 52 percent in the Cajuns’ past four games, and that’s including a night when they scored touchdowns on all six chances against New Mexico State.
“You go back and look at the film, and we’re dialing up the same plays. We’re dialing up what we do and what we’re good at,” Hudspeth said. “It just gets to the point where we didn’t execute, or maybe to the point where the defense made a good play.”
When there’s less room to operate, mistakes become magnified.
“You can always finger point, but as a team, I think it was everyone’s fault,” senior tight end Larry Pettis said. “One misstep and the hole closes. We all need to get better, and I feel like we will this week.”
The flip side of the equation is that the Cajuns are producing points regularly when they get into the red zone thanks to the reliability of senior kicker Hunter Stover.
In his first year as the Cajuns’ starting place-kicker, Stover has connected on each of his 14 field-goal opportunities coming inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
While the Cajuns would’ve liked to diminish his opportunities there, his consistency has allowed them either to stay in games or squeak out close ones, like when his four field goals propelled the Cajuns to a 19-9 win against South Alabama, a night when they scored one red-zone touchdown on six chances.
“This is his first year really being the guy the entire season, and he’s done a great job,” Hudspeth said. “If he’s not first-team all-conference, I don’t know who is.”