Louisiana Lafayette Iowa St Football

UL coach Billy Napier gives much of the credit for the Sun Belt Conference's recent success to going to a two-division system three seasons ago.

With three wins over the Big 12 on Saturday, Monday’s weekly Sun Belt head coach news conferences were likely among the most fun versions yet.

“I was fired up to see those three wins in Big 12,” Texas State coach Jake Spavital said. “You look across the board and everybody’s competing, makes you proud to be in this league. When you’re in the Big 12 and then to the Sun Belt you see this league has talent but there’s really good coaches in this league. You see all the national attention. I think there’s going to be a lot of eyes on us from here on.”

For Coastal Carolina, the pressure was on in its game against Kansas after hearing of Arkansas State’s 35-31 win over Kansas State and UL’s 31-14 road upset of Iowa State.

The Chanticleers responded with a 38-23 win over the Jayhawks.

“We definitely knew we were 2-0 and we didn’t want to be the one to lose,” Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell said. “The Sun Belt showed well to that point and we didn’t want to be the one that didn’t follow through. We knew all eyes were going to be on us. I talked about it in pregame and said we’re not just representing our school. We’re representing our conference. I’m glad we could be a part of that.”

UL coach Billy Napier points toward the decision to split the Sun Belt into two division three years ago.

“One of the benefits of this year, there’s a lot of negatives and a lot of people disappointed, but because we are playing as a league and we’ve done the things that are necessary, we’re getting the opportunity to play and we’re getting more exposure because of that,” Napier said. “It’s becoming a trend that a Sun Belt team can beat a Power Five each and every year.

“It’s no different than in the past. It’s the vision that Karl Benson had when he put the divisions in place. And you’re seeing coaches that have been around in their programs a little bit and have made the most of opportunities. It’s a great year for (Group of Five) football because we’re going to get more opportunities for exposure and more opportunities to impress.”

Good injury news

Napier said Monday senior running back Elijah Mitchell should be available for Saturday’s 11 a.m. ESPN2 road game at Georgia State after leaving Saturday's game early following a big hit against Iowa State.

“He was fine,” Napier said. “We don’t anticipate any issues going forward. He just took a good shot there, like many. Those safeties were very physical and they did a really good job tackling when the ball did get to that second level of the defense.”

Mitchell was forced to settle for 46 yards rushing on eight carries, while also catching two passes for 22 yards.

Napier also confirmed junior defensive end Zi’Yon Hill is expected to play Saturday after sitting out the opener at Iowa State.

Pauley gets chance

Sophomore wide receiver Devon Pauley was elevated in UL’s offensive plan for the Iowa State during last Thursday’s practice.

Freshman Dontae Fleming suffered an injury early in that practice, Napier said Monday, so the staff quickly shifted to Pauley getting more playing time.

“Devon started to play a little bit as a backup last year late in the season,” Napier said of the Barbe High product. “He had a heck of a training camp. Our guys have a lot of confidence in Pauley. He can get open, he’s quick, he’s fast and he’s got really strong hands. He made a critical play in the game in the two-minute drive. He plays on special teams. He’s tough. He’s got no fear. He’s one of those walk-ons that we were able to award a scholarship to last year.”

It was Pauley’s 16-yard reception in traffic near the sideline that ignited UL’s two-minute drive before the half that resulted in a 30-yard field goal to cut Iowa State's lead to 14-10.

In addition to Pauley, Napier said senior Jalen Williams moved to a different receiver spot. Fleming did get limited time, catching one pass for a 7-yard loss.

Competition at kicker

Junior graduate transfer kicker Nate Snyder missed two of his three field goal attempts in UL’s win over Iowa State, so Napier admitted he’ll “create competition there” with reserve placekicker Kenny Almendares.

Napier also warned against giving Snyder all the blame.

“We try to handle it technically,” Napier said. “Nate was a little bit off fundamentally. We also can maybe do a little better at snapper and holder. Oftentimes, the kicker gets blamed like the quarterback gets blamed on offense, but to be good at placekicker, the players around you have to play well. I think we can clean up our game a little bit at snapper and holder to help Nate.

“I also think that Kenny Almendares is a talented young man who will have an opportunity to compete there. We’ll create competition there, but we’re also going to challenge the players around each one of those guys to play better.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.