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UL linebacker Jourdan Quibodeaux (43) celebrates a fourth and one stop against Nicholls State during their NCAA game at Cajun Field on Saturday, September 11, 2021 in Lafayette, La..

Saturday’s 27-24 home win over Nicholls did not produce a big postgame celebration in UL’s locker room.

“I think it’s a good thing when you go in a locker room after a game and you won the game, but the players understand the standard and the expectations and they know they can do things better,” UL coach Billy Napier said.

“I think that’s what we have in our locker room right now. We’ve got a group that’s having a hard time celebrating winning a game. That’s hard to believe, but I think it’s a good indication that they understand and have standards and expectations in terms of how we play independent of the result.”

Hearing Arkansas handled Texas 40-21 certainly didn’t help the troubled mood either.

If you’re a Cajuns fan, you may not want to spend much time thinking about how Saturday’s game would have played out without Kris Moncrief’s 67-yard interception return.

It’s a really, really scary thought.

That one huge turnaround covered up so many bad signs.

It made UL’s vaunted secondary somehow seem a little better after getting torched for 359 yards passing.

Nicholls covered 78 yards in three plays on its first drive.

This defense hasn’t endured a lot of hot-knife-through-butter performances, but that was the case way too often Saturday.

For the second straight game, UL’s defense couldn’t get off the field at a high rate. The Colonels converted 9 of 16 third downs.

On the flip side, UL’s offense converted only 5 of 14 tries. Consistently losing the conversion battle is a recipe for disaster long term.

“We’re going to look back at the tape and there’s going to be a lot of things we can do better,” Napier said. “But a lot of that is Nicholls had a good plan, and their players played well.”

The good news is the Colonels basically dared UL to throw the ball, and quarterback Levi Lewis and his receiving corps were up to the task.

“They added an extra guy to the box and they were moving the front around and created some issues in the run game with an extra player,” Napier said. “They basically did everything they could do to keep us from rushing the ball, which I get it.”

Newcomers Michael Jefferson and John Stephens both got in the end zone to bolster the passing game.

“MJ has been one of our better practice players,” Napier said of Jefferson. “He continues to get better. We’re glad we added him this summer, and certainly he’s going to be a really good weapon for us going forward.”

So while it may have looked bad for the running game with only 83 yards, it basically wasn’t the right time for that unit.

“There’s going to be a day when we’re going to have to run the ball to win,” Napier said. “I think that’s an area we need to improve, whether it’s communication or whether it’s fundamentals. Often times, when you aren’t rushing the ball, everybody wants to talk about the offensive line, but everybody contributes to that.”

Chris Smith led UL backs with 46 yards on 11 tries, while Levi Lewis only had five carries for no yards on a night his counterpart rushed for 121 yards on 18 attempts.

“We’ve got a ways to go in terms of creating a run game and certainly in protection. We had some issues tonight,” Napier said.

Another good performance was turned in by linebacker Jourdan Quibodeaux while filling in for injured starter Ferrod Gardner.

“I thought it was very evident to me just watching the defense play that he was competing his tail off and doing everything he can do for the team,” Napier said. “Quib’s one of our best, not only as a player and a teammate, but a former walk-on that had to step up and play in a major way tonight. He certainly gave a great effort ,and he’s one heck of a teammate.”

And even though the defense gave up 24 first downs and 511 total yards, it did deliver a goal line stand on fourth-and-one and Moncrief's critical interception for a touchdown.

Suddenly, however, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture holes in a UL defense that seemed deep and talented coming into the season.

Suddenly, there’s good reason to wonder if the running game can really be a strength any time soon.

And there’s not much time to figure it out with Ohio University coming to Cajun Field on Thursday.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.