UL football coach Billy Napier has been around some open dates that didn’t benefit his teams, didn’t allow them reach their potential and didn’t create any improvement.
The second-year Ragin’ Cajuns coach said that didn’t happen last week with his current squad.
“I’ve been a part of some open dates that were like pulling teeth,” Napier said. “These kids showed up and worked, and I thought it was a sign of maturity and a sign that we’re motivated about what’s in front of us.”
What’s immediately in front of his Cajuns (5-2, 2-1 Sun Belt Conference) is Saturday’s annual homecoming clash against a struggling Texas State team. But what’s also looming is a five-game November that could put the Cajuns in rarefied air and record-setting positions should they run the table, win the Sun Belt’s Western Division and advance to the league title game for the second straight year.
“What else could you ask for as a football team?” Napier said Monday. “You’re in position where if you handle your business you get that opportunity that we experienced last year. You gotta compartmentalize these things. You gotta have a little bit of a big picture feel. Hey, you’re a 5-2 football team with five weeks to go, three of those are at home and three of them are Western Division opponents.
“You have to motivate your team and you have to create perspective about the opportunities that are in front of you. But then you’ve got to zero in and nail down, and say here’s the big picture but here’s the plan for this week. I thought we did that in the open date and I thought we did a really good job there.”
The Cajuns haven’t played since their Thursday, Oct. 17 37-20 road win at Western Division rival Arkansas State and rarely mentioned Texas State (2-5, 1-2) in their five practice days last week. Napier said that was by design, with his team spending Monday through Wednesday preparing for different schemes they’ll see from the remaining four regular-season opponents, including the quick five-day turnaround for next Thursday’s game at Coastal Carolina.
Thursday and Friday were then devoted to shoring up UL’s own deficiencies, Napier said.
“We kind of reloaded and re-centered a little bit to work specifically on our football team, take time to reflect there, have some self-awareness and really commit to improving,” he said. “We built our practice plan around areas specifically that we needed to work on and improve and I thought we did a good job.”
“The best thing we got accomplished was the mental approach,” senior safety Deuce Wallace said. “It’s a bye week but that doesn’t mean you completely turn everything off. It gave us a chance to work on us, it allowed us to put ourselves in the forefront and to get ready for the second half of the season.
“We had a lot of good-on-good, and it’s not often we get to hit our own offense so that’s motivation.”
Wallace had some good news during the open week when he was named to the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, which goes annually to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
The visiting Bobcats were scheduled to take center stage in Monday’s workout, after the Cajuns had their first full weekend off since the start of fall drills. Texas State opened 0-3 with losses to Texas A&M, Wyoming and unbeaten SMU, had a 24-3 win over Nicholls and has lost its past two Sun Belt games to UL-Monroe (24-14) and Arkansas State (38-14).
However, the Bobcats’ other win was a 37-34 overtime win over Georgia State in late September, and that’s the one that caught Napier’s eye.
“You start looking at them, they’re a very capable team,” he said. “They beat Georgia State, which in my opinion is one of the most improved teams and one of the better teams in our entire league. For Texas State to pull that off gives you an indication that they’re very capable and have lots of talented players that can give you issues.”
UL is a three-touchdown favorite for Saturday's 4 p.m. homecoming game, something that’s concerning to Wallace.
"It’s homecoming and it’s normal to be hyped a little more,” he said, “but teams that are scheduled for your homecoming, sometimes they feel disrespected because they think they're scheduled for homecoming because you expect to win. It’s just the pride of a football player, so we know they’re going to be ready to play.”
Napier, for one, doesn’t mind the diversions that homecoming brings.
“I’m excited about a great opportunity to play in front of our people and represent this place past, present and future,” he said. “I think sometimes people want to make it out like it’s a negative, it’s a distraction, but I think it’s a positive and we look forward to it.”