A prevalent theme entering Thursday’s UL-Ohio matchup was a strong desire by both teams to fare better on third downs.
For the Ragin’ Cajuns, it was mission accomplished … sort of.
On the defensive side, UL had allowed 19 conversions on third down in 31 tries through the first two games. On Thursday, the Cajuns limited the Bobcats to three conversions in 11 tries during the 49-14 victory.
“Effort and really locking down on the pass coverage and quarterback scrambles,” UL junior linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill said of the solution on third down. “That was our main thing — keeping him in the pocket, and it’s going to be hard to catch the ball on our DBs. That’s exactly what we did.”
Things were not as rosy on offense. It wasn’t much of an upgrade with UL converting four of 11 tries on third down. But considering that UL’s offense ran 83 offensive plays to only 55 for Ohio and the Cajuns were successful on all three fourth-down tries, those numbers are a bit deceiving.
Another UL response to third-down issues was simply to get the first downs on the two early downs.
“Third-down avoidance is a big part of playing successful offense,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “If you can avoid playing third down, it’s one of the best things that can happen to you. We did take a two-down approach and sometimes that affects the third-down statistics, but we also evaluate the conversion downs.
“If we made it on fourth, then our plan worked. I think there were numerous examples of that.”
Overall, the Cajuns posted 33 first downs and scored in all seven red-zone opportunities, while Ohio didn’t score in either red-zone chance.
Unfortunate play call
UL’s offensive coaching staff certainly had a call it regretted in the first half Thursday.
Leading 14-0 and getting possession at its own 47 early in the second quarter, UL attempted a double reverse that resulted in an 8-yard loss and subsequent punt.
That miscue halted UL’s momentum for three possessions.
“We sputtered around there in the second quarter a little bit,” Napier said of the slump. “We had a three-and-out, a four-and-out, we ran a reverse into pressure, got a grounding penalty, we got a tipped ball … we had three possessions we didn’t score there.
“We were very fortunate to ... execute the two-minute (drill) before the half there to get a little bit of momentum going into halftime.”
Not sky kicking
Starting in the Texas game, the Cajuns began kicking the ball short on kickoffs and typically covering them really well.
It seemed curious but worked well enough that it looked like a strategy.
It wasn’t, as Napier cleared up after Thursday’s win.
“Those are not sky kicks, buddy,” Napier said while laughing. “I wish they were. Those are just bad kicks to be honest with you. That’s an area of our team where we need to improve. We hit a couple early that were what we expect and what we want. I thought both of our cover units did a really good job in the game.
“We’ve got to get better ball placement, better hang time and certainly we’ve got to get it down there.”
UL defensive end Zi’Yon Hill did not play due to a lower-body injury. There were times during Thursday’s win that his absence was noticeable while Ohio rushed for 104 yards in the first half.
Left tackle Carlos Rubio started after missing the Nicholls game. During the first drive of the second half, Rubio left the game shortly with an apparent injury, but he returned before the end of the drive.
Wide receiver Errol Rogers also did not play, and senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner missed his second straight game.
The Cajuns were also forced to play most of the second half without special-teams standout Jayrin Wilson, who was ejected for targeting after a big hit on a kickoff return with 10:03 left in the third quarter.