Troy’s defense has not been good all season long.
But the credentials the Trojans’ offense came to Cajun Field with Saturday seemed to be legitimate.
It was averaging 39 points and 477 total yards behind a seasoned senior quarterback Kaleb Barker, who was on pace to set the all-time Sun Belt Conference record for third-down conversion percentage in a season that’s still standing after 18 years.
Coming off perhaps its worst performance of the season, UL’s defense was seeking a bounce-back performance.
Saturday’s 53-3 thumping of Troy by the UL Ragin' Cajuns may have surprised some.
Once the two mixed Saturday night at Cajun Field, it turned out to be a complete mismatch.
UL’s defense yielded one pretty good drive early on, but shut the door for the rest of the night in the Cajuns’ 53-3 runaway victory. Troy only converted four of 15 tries on third down and finished with 203 yards passing.
“It goes back to our philosophy,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “We like to play tight coverage, we like to deny the ball. I thought we did a good job overall with the plan. We had lots of different presentations. I thought we affected the quarterback early.
“We made them throw into tight coverage. They weren’t on top of their game. I thought our guys played with terrific technique throughout the day in man coverage — outside, inside and the backers in the front did a good job. We wanted to make them one-dimensional and we did that.”
Barker was under constant pressure. UL’s defense — despite playing without star defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill — collected four sacks, five quarterback hurries and even got the unit’s first safety in five years.
“Then we affected the quarterback,” Napier said. “We sacked him and we made him move. It comes down to team defense. It’s every level of the defense working well together. Their tempo can present some issues to you.
“We worked really hard on communication, adjusting out the call, getting aligned correctly — that’s half the battle — then using the correct technique. Most games come down to fundamentals and how well you execute what you had planned. Certainly, we did all of those things well today.”
Since the beginning of August practice, the message has been the secondary is deeper and much more talented. Saturday’s handling of Troy’s passing game was the best example of that claim all season.
“No question,” Napier said. “The young talent on the team tonight emerged in my opinion. The defensive front and the secondary. We’ve been working really, really well.”
With Hill out and with the finish line in sight, the defense paid extra attention to detail.
“This week, one of the things we did was we tried to make a conscious effort to meet with and encourage the leaders on the team and also that group of players that need to emerge and need to play well in these final four games for us to do what we want to accomplish,” Napier said. “That showed up. We had all the ‘I’s dotted and all the ‘T’s crossed. We were ready from a human element standpoint.”
The secondary actually enjoyed the challenge after the run-happy South Alabama game the week before.
“Coming into this week, we were expecting them to throw the ball a lot after watching film,” sophomore cornerback A.J. Washington said. “Our coaches just strategized and I felt like the secondary, we had a big role in this game coming in.
“This game was a challenge for the secondary. I felt like last week was more of a challenge for the defensive ends, defensive lineman. I feel like this week, we had a bigger chip on our shoulder. We just had to follow the game plan and go out there and play our best ball.”
It was a blackout night at Cajun Field for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.
Washington thwarted one of Troy’s best chances to get into the end zone with a leaping interception midway through the second quarter at the UL 7.
“I really saw it coming,” Washington said. “I figured he’d try to steer me inside, but I wasn’t falling for it. He came back to me and I really just got a feel for the ball, jumped at the highest point and picked it off.”
As usual, senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux led the effort with a team-high 11 tackles and a forced fumble.
It was also a big night for ex-Acadiana High Rams standout Jourdan Quibodeaux who had eight tackles and a sack for a safety.
Cornerback Jayrin Wilson collected an interception and a pass breakup, while safety Bralen Trahan had three tackles.
Three games ago, the trip to Coastal Carolina was supposed to be challenging.
“We just executed the game plan,” defensive end Chauncey Manac said. “We had been game-planning them all week and we just stuck to what we knew best.
“We missed Zi’Yon, but the guys stood up and played their role and did what they had to do for us to win.”
In Manac’s mind, the defense’s mission was actually quite easy.
“Just keeping our offense on the field and getting three-and-outs,” he said.