There might not be a more complicated issue for this season's Ragin’ Cajuns football team than its passing game.
At first glance, you look at the season statistics and there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.
UL quarterbacks are completing a 66 percent of their passes, averaging 241.2 passing yards per game and producing 48 of UL’s 112 first downs compared to 58 on the ground.
In terms of yardage, the passing game has collected 965 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions through four games, compared to 1,295 yards rushing with 18 touchdowns and one fumble.
That sure looks like a perfect complement to a dominating rushing attack — and, truthfully, so far it has been.
While most statistics are in UL’s favor on its way to the program’s first 3-1 start in seven years, there’s one glaring one that doesn’t make …
And yet, UL coach Billy Napier has consistently said his passing game needs more consistency down the field.
Junior starting quarterback Levi Lewis clearly said in his last press conference interview he needs to get better.
Ask Cajun fans for their take on the passing game and many seem hesitant to offer much praise.
Bring up Lewis to any of his teammates and each one praises his work ethic and leadership.
“I see him up there in the film room all the time,” senior graduate transfer Nick Ralston said of Lewis. “I’ve watched film with him quite a bit. Every day at practice, he’s leading out there. I see him in the training room. I see him everywhere. I see him all the time. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. I’m just glad he’s our quarterback.”
Much of the concern is a combination of the eye-test and fear.
Let’s face it, folks, it was difficult to place too pretty of a ribbon on the two-minute offense before the half during Saturday’s 45-25 road win over Ohio.
ATHENS, Ohio — It took a little longer than UL coach Billy Napier would have wanted, but the vaunted Ragin’ Cajuns rushing attack delivered on…
The final result was fairly successful — a 27-yard Stevie Artigue field goal on the first half’s final play to give UL a 10-6 lead at intermission.
But it wasn’t a thing of beauty.
The drive began with 1:53 on the clock at UL’s 23. Of the nine plays in the scoring drive, five were running plays. Of the four pass completions, the only one over six yards was a 16-yard completion thrown by wide receiver Jalen Williams.
The bottom line says it produced three points in a win, but that’s where the fear factor comes in for many fans.
Down the road — against maybe Appalachian State or Troy — is there enough potential in the passing game to push the ball down the field if the running game and/or the short passing game aren’t options?
“I think we just need to keep practicing hard, continue to develop chemistry with the receivers and we’ve got to block for Levi,” Ralston said. “There were a couple of times in the game where he had some pressure. If it’s a clean pocket, he’ll make the throws.”
For the season, Lewis is 68-of-104 passing for 815 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Again, those numbers look fine for a first-year starter on an offensive unit carried by its rushing attack.
It’s not that UL coach Billy Napier doesn’t think Sun Belt Conference play is important.
“I think that we take what the defense gives us,” Napier said. “I think we need to improve in the vertical passing game. Certainly there’s some situations in the game where you’re going to need to do that, two-minute is one of those, third down, and we’ve done it well at times.
“We need to do it more consistently. That’s where we’re at. Like a lot of areas on our team, we’ve got to continue to refine those things and do them with more precision.”
Another issue is the wide receiver situation. Senior Ja’Marcus Bradley is an outstanding player. Most of the time, the only vertical threat is for Lewis to throw it up to Bradley and hope his buddy comes down with it.
Jamal Bell has been a pleasant surprise. His ability to run after the catch has been critical for a passing game that’s vertically-challenged.
But the third-leading receiver is a true freshman in Peter LeBlanc with seven catches for 86 yards, most on a 53-yard TD catch against Texas Southern.
If a high-percentage, short passing game to go along with one of the nation’s top rushing games and an improved defense is a spicy enough recipe to produce a Sun Belt Conference title and a bowl victory, so be it.
At that point, who cares how good your vertical passing game is?
When Nick Ralston made the decision to transfer from Arizona State to the Ragin’ Cajuns for his final year of eligibility, he didn’t really kn…
It’s not about style points. It’s about winning.
But there’s an understandable concern the lack of a downfield passing game will be a costly issue at some point.
Ironically, the Cajuns will be at Georgia Southern on Saturday.
Compared to the Eagles’ passing game — 13-of-29 for 162 yards with no TDs or interceptions this season — UL’s passing game looks like Air Coryell.
It wouldn’t be a shock if the passing game pushes the Cajuns over the top Saturday.
After that, time will tell.
UL senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner has had so many conflicting thoughts running through his mind this past offseason, it’s a wonder his head …
“I think it’s shooting to play your best game every week, trying to leave the park every week and say I made the right decision every time, the ball went where it was supposed to go, played with great accuracy, made great decisions and was a great competitor,” Napier said of Lewis. “I think as he refines how he prepares and how he practices, the more experience he gains, the more confidence he’s going to get.
“He did that for the most part Saturday. There’s a handful of plays that he’d like to have back, but most weeks are going to be like that. The most important thing he did was he took care of the ball, spread it around throughout, he took what the defense gave him and put our team in position to win.”
As long as that continues, nothing else really matters.