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UL players celebrate their 31-3 homecoming victory over Texas State on Saturday at Cajun Field to improve to 6-2 on the season and move into sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt West.

For many during the preseason, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were supposed to be a team carried by an explosive offense.

Saturday’s 31-3 homecoming win over Texas State was another example of the defense shouldering a bigger load.

The bottom line is coach Billy Napier’s 6-2 Cajuns are inching ever so closer to being a complete football team with only a quarter of the regular season remaining.

“No, I think it’s good team ball,” Napier said of the defense bailing out the offense in the first half. “We’ve always been on the other end where the other team is scoring and we’ve had to respond.

“Each and every week is different. The matchups are different. We certainly knew going into the game their strength was their defense. We felt like we’re going to have to take care of the ball and make them go the length of the field and we played that way.”

Indeed, this 2019 Cajuns club is displaying all the characteristics of a championship team so far.

No, it may not always be pretty. For instance, not every fan is comfortable with two-minute offenses that include seven runs and three passes.

But in the end, it worked like a charm.

At the time, the Cajuns were only leading a three-touchdown underdog 7-3 with 1:38 left until halftime.

Using its timeouts and a patient rushing attack, UL drove 50 yards in 10 plays, ending the drive with a 46-yard field goal by Stevie Artigue to claim a 10-3 halftime lead.

“We’ve got three timeouts,” Napier said. “We call it, ‘May-Day two-minute,’ so we’re going to try to get the ball to a certain area on the field where we feel like we can go be aggressive. It just popped out of there. We ran it on second-and-short a couple times and then got quick on the ball.

“Levi did a good job of working his way through the progression on the boundary and got out of bounds. That was good to see. We kind of needed that a little bit, gave us some confidence going into the half and certainly got a little momentum.”

Even better, UL got the ball first in the second half and came out with a much more aggressive rushing attack en route to claiming a 17-3 lead.

“It needed to be different,” Napier said of the slugging first half. “I think anybody was happy with the way it looked in the first half. Not near as fast or as physical or as much strain. That’s not who we are. I thought we made the adjustments. I thought the assistant coaches did a good job of going and correcting that.”

Elijah Mitchell led the charge with runs of 16 and 11 yards to open the second half and the Cajuns never really looked back.

“Just too many one-for-ones that we didn’t win in my opinion having been on the sidelines watching it,” Napier said. “I think it’s part of having a few players out, it’s part of not playing for 16 days, but a lot of it has to do with us doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Overcoming injuries is another quality of the Cajuns so far.

Neither right tackle Robert Hunt or running back Trey Ragas played Saturday, and receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley saw little minutes.

It took some time but the offense still produced 24 first downs and 479 total yards.

“We did play a little bit left-handed on offense today,” Napier said. “Ja’Marcus Bradley also went down early in the game. Ragas was out, Hunt was out and then to have Ja’Marcus go down.

“It’s perspective. You can view it lots of different ways. I view it, we got the win. We certainly maybe sputtered at times, but it gave those guys an opportunity. I think when we turn the tape on, we’re going to see a lot of positives come from that.”

Controlling a game shorthanded is a great sign for any team with high aspirations.

Just like Appalachian State was reminded last Thursday, it doesn’t take much sometimes to get caught off guard.

Now comes the next challenge to test UL’s maturity as an emerging football program with a short week at Coastal Carolina.

“We’re 6-2, we’re bowl eligible, but we’ve got bigger ambitions,” Napier said. “We’re going to turn the page and get ready for Coastal.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.