Southern U-Texas Southern

The Texas Southern Tigers struggled through a 2-9 season a year ago, including this loss to the Southern Jaguars, with former LSU assistant coaches Michael Haywood and Morris Watts leading the way. Clarence McKinney took over as the head coach this season.

This is only UL’s fourth meeting against a Southwestern Athletic Conference opponent and the first one against Texas Southern.

To catch up a little bit on the visiting Tigers, the program hasn’t has a winning season since 2000. That came at the the end of a five-year stretch from 1996-2000 with five straight winning seasons for Texas Southern.

The Tigers were 2-9 in each of the past two seasons and 4-7 in 2016. The closest thing to a winning season during that 19-year stretch was 2014 when Texas Southern started the season 5-1, only to lose their final five games to finish at 5-6.

That late-season collapse came a year after the NCAA hit the program with a five-year probation.

As for the history of the program, it’s placed many players in the NFL. Saints fans may such names as Bob Pollard, Brett Maxie, Michael Strahan, Kenny Burrough and Jack Holmes.

Willie Ellison, Julius Adams and Lloyd Mumphord are some other recognizable former NFL stars to play at Texas Southern.

Not satisfied

While UL coach Billy Napier said he was happy with the crowd support and his team’s play in the 35-14 win over Liberty on Saturday at Cajun Field, it’s obvious he’s got a pretty lengthy "to-do list.”

“In general, start with the things that are uncharacteristic, not the type of team that I want to have or our staff wants to have, certainly our players get it, too,” Napier said. “We want to start with eliminating turnovers and any undisciplined penalty, a bad decision, a block in the back on a huge punt return in the game.

“We want to get rid of that. We want to get rid of a false start penalty, a personal foul in the opener, those types of scenarios where it has nothing to do with the opponent. Then, the mental errors, the missed communications. Maybe you give up a big play because you’re misaligned, or maybe you give up a negative play because of poor technique.”|

For example, even though UL had an encouraging performance in its loss to Mississippi State and a three-touchdown win over Liberty, the Cajuns are minus-4 in the turnover margin through two games.

“Turnovers, undisciplined penalties, mental errors and fundamental flaws that we had, those are areas and that’s where we start,” Napier said. “We’ve got two games of feedback now. We’ve got a legitimate sample. We kind of know where we’re at."

Rushing defense better?

A year ago, UL’s defense gave up 219 rushing yards per game. In the Week 1 loss to Mississippi State, the Cajuns allowed 261 rushing yards.

And even in the 35-14 win over Liberty — just one week after the Flames were limited to minus-4 yards rushing by Syracuse — UL’s defense yielded 142 yards on the ground.

That’s one area, though, Napier isn’t looking for the panic button to press.

“Well, outside of the 66-yard run, I think we were at 2.8 a carry, which is under 3 yards a carry which is our goal and objective,” Napier said. “After that 66-yard run, they had 138 yards offense the rest of the game. We shut them out in the second half. They got half of their offense on the first possession and that one play.”

Liberty had just 30 yards rushing in the second half.

Texas Southern is averaging 156 yards rushing per game after playing Incarnate Word and Prairie View A&M.

Results or process?

It’s perhaps the biggest disconnect between the coaches and the fans. What exactly should be the primary focus be — the process to achieve a result or the result itself?

While some may only perceive that in a negative way, Napier covered both sides of the spectrum in reviewing the Cajuns’ performance against Liberty.

“That’s probably where we, in all three phases,” Napier said. “The score wasn’t indicative in my opinion of how well we really played, if that makes sense. We just need to execute a little bit better in some critical situations. You start talking about the three missed field goals, the last play of the offensive game where we didn’t score on the six-inch line and we turned the ball over on the 13-yard-line. We could have broken that game open and it could have been really lopsided, but we didn’t so we were looking at 35-14.”

The good news for UL fans is most of those obstacles to a more lopsided win are theoretically pretty easy to remedy.

“But I’m not necessarily worried about that as much as I am fixing the issues that we had, try not to be too worried about that scoreboard and that outcome,” Napier said. “Truth be known, it’s more about these are areas of our team where we’ve got to make improvement and that’s what we want to work on.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.