ACA.ultexas33.090521

Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy (8) catches a pass in front of UL cornerback Trey Amos (21) during their NCAA football game at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 4, 2021 in Austin, Tx..

This time, there was no magic.

There weren’t any long kickoff returns for memorable scores to relish for years to come.

There weren’t any great defensive stands where the Sun Belt secondary played more physically than the Big 12 receiving corps.

One year after knocking off Iowa State, the No. 23-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns never found their groove in a 38-18 loss to No. 19-ranked Texas on Saturday at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium.

“There’s no question Texas played better than the Ragin’ Cajuns today,” UL coach Billy Napier said.

On Wednesday, Napier exclaimed nothing that happened in Ames, Iowa last September would help the Cajuns in Austin.

He couldn’t have been more accurate.

“Texas had a good plan,” Napier said. “I also think we had a good plan. We’ve got to make those plays when we get an opportunity.

“When you play good teams, the margin of error is small. Hats off to Texas.”

Texas redshirt quarterback Hudson Card was supposed to be vulnerable and the Cajuns’ defense certainly pressured him.

But Card answered the charge by completing 14 of 21 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns.

More importantly, he consistently avoided intense pressure to scramble away from trouble convert third down after third down.

“We had them in long-yardage situations and they did a really good job,” Napier said. “The quarterback made some plays with his feet — just the ability to keep the play alive. There were numerous occasion where his ability to extend the play (hurt) and they made some tremendous catches.”

While in the game, the Card-led offense converted seven out of 12 times on third down.

The big threat for the Cajuns was supposed to be sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, and he certainly was trouble.

Robinson ran it for 103 yards and a score on 20 carries, but more importantly caught four passes for 73 yards and a score.

“We’re in good calls,” Napier said. “It comes down to communication and execution. Fundamentally, at times we could have tackled better and played better in space.”

The biggest problem, though, turned out being sophomore wide receiver Jordan Whittington, who turned seven receptions into 113 yards and a score.

UL’s offense, meanwhile, got off to another slow start.

When the game was still in doubt, the Cajuns only converted two of nine on third down. The passing game never found any rhythm.

Quarterback Levi Lewis only hit on 19 of 30 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown.

No receivers emerged. The leading receivers were senior Jalen Williams with three catches for 48 yards, Errol Rogers with four for 42 yards and Kyren Lacy with three catches for 40 yards and a score.

“We did some good things, but I also think there were some opportunities that we missed,” Napier said of UL’s passing game. “We also have a lot of work to do to improve in certain areas.”

After showing some punch on its second drive of the game, UL’s offense struggling throughout the first half.

On that second drive, a 20-yard connection to running back Emani Bailey and a 16-yarder to Jacob Bernard helped get the Cajuns in the red zone.

But an 8-yard sack of Lewis forced the Cajuns to settle for a 37-yard Kenny Almendares field goal and a 3-0 lead with 8:16 left in the first.

As encouraging as that appeared at the time, the Cajuns would only get one first down over their next two drives.

Meanwhile, the Longhorns’ offense put on a clinic in converting on third down.

First came an 11-play, 70-yard drive in 5:43 that resulted in an 18-yard touchdown pass to Robinson for a 7-3 lead with 2:25 left in the opening quarter.

The big play on that drive was actually a fourth-and-six conversion on a play it appeared UL’s defense got good pressure and had the targets covered, but Card squirmed his way to a 6-yard gain to keep the drive alive.

Then Robinson’s TD reception came on third-and-four.

It happened again on the next drive – a conversion on third-and-6 – but this time Texas kicker Cameron Dicker missed the 45-yard field goal to keep it at 7-3.

The Cajuns weren’t quite as fortunate on the Longhorns’ next drive, which covered 72 yards on 14 plays in 7:45 to seize a 14-3 lead with 2:00 left until intermission.

Texas converted three more third downs on the drive that ended with a 6-yard TD pass to Cade Brewer … yes, on third down.

“I think the play count in the first half certainly affected us in the game,” Napier said. “At one point, they had like 39 plays and we had 18.”

In the first half, UL’s offense was 0-for-5 on third down, while Texas was 5-for-9 and 1-for-1 on fourth down.

Texas outgained the Cajuns 216-125 in total yards and 10-7 in first downs in the first half.

The second half started out poorly with the Cajuns booting it out of bounds and Texas quickly seized the momentum with an 8-play, 65-yard drive in 3:12 to grab a 21-6 lead with 11:48 left in the third.

A 41-yard connection with Jordan Whittington on third down gave Texas seven third-down conversions in 11 tries down to the UL 12. Two plays later, Bijan Robinson scored from 7 yards out for a 15-point lead.

That seemed to wake up the Cajuns’ offense, which responded with a 12-play, 79-yard drive in 5:52.

UL converted its first third down on the drive – a 7-yard run by Chris Smith. Tight end Neal Johnson caught his first two passes on the day as well on the drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown run by Smith.

The only problem is the extra point was blocked and fell short to allow Texas to maintain a 21-12 lead with 5:50 left in the third.

The Cajuns never got any closer than two scores the rest of the way.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.