As the 2018 football season unfolded, UL fans learned a great deal about the offensive play-calling side of new coach Billy Napier.
It’s actually the side of his position the novice head coach Napier came to Ragin' Cajuns with the most experience, having performed play-calling duties at Clemson and Arizona State as well as at Alabama on a limited basis.
Cajuns fans, however, should feel like that learning process ended with UL’s Cure Bowl loss to Tulane in December.
In many ways, Napier is counting on his first year as just scratching the surface in establishing his offensive philosophy.
Every time the subject of UL’s quarterback position for the 2019 season comes up, I hesitate.
As the offensive coordinator at Arizona State in 2017, Napier led the 10th-most productive passing offense in the country.
In his first season at UL, the Cajuns finished third in the Sun Belt at 218.7 rushing yards per game and fifth in the air with 205.6 passing yards.
Much of that was because of personnel, but not all of it.
“We’re going to run the ball and stop the run around here or they can get another coach,” Napier said during the offseason in describing his basic coaching philosophy. “That’s who I want to be. Hopefully, we’ll see more and more of that around here.”
That doesn’t mean, though, Napier was able to run it and throw it at the exact rate he would in a perfect world. Defense and special teams units also impact offensive play-calling.
When Bryan Maggard accepted the position as the new director of athletics for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns on Feb. 1, 2017, he couldn't possibly know …
“If we get to a point where we’re getting stops on a consistent basis and getting more takeaways, and you’ve got quality depth, then you can play with some tempo and increase the play count,” Napier said. “If you increase your play count on offense, ultimately you’re going to increase your play count on defense.
“As time goes on and we get more quality players and increase depth, I think you’ll see us play with more tempo on offense. That allows us to get these explosive players more touches.”
There are several reasons to believe UL’s 2019 offense will be even better executing Napier’s rushing game wishes.
The most obvious areas are the return of the seasoned running back corps of Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais.
“And that (team rushing totals) was with limited possessions,” Napier said. “We tried to shrink the games, play less plays on defense, keep it tight and find a way to win it in the second half. We won six of eight down the stretch and that was partly because we made a commitment to rush the ball.”
In fact, one of Napier’s most immediate influences is getting Calais’ abilities more involved in the Cajuns’ offense.
Like coaches all across the nation this summer, Sun Belt football coaches had their own opinions on which direction NCAA transfer rules should…
Calais rushed for 766 yards and seven TDs last season after combining for 305 yards and two scores in his first two seasons. Ragas led the attack with 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns and Mitchell added 1,004 yards and 13 scores.
“Just in general as a football program, my philosophy and who I want to be is we want to be able to put the ball down and basically dictate the game because we control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Napier said. “We want to make the game very simple because we can hand the ball off and we want to play a physical brand of football that has a cumulative effect on the opponent.”
As dedicated as Napier obviously is about the running the football, however, running it and stopping it still doesn’t rank as his staff’s top focus. That’s reserved for creating turnovers.
“Attacking the football is No. 1 on our list,” Napier said. “We talk about it each and every day in the building. Hopefully, we do that better and lead to more wins.”
Napier’s information tells him teams win 65 percent of the time with a plus-one turnover ratio and at a 75-percent rate with a plus-two.
“We want to be plus-three every week,” added Napier, whose Cajuns were a minus-two for the season a year ago.
Another area that could bolster UL’s rushing attack is a more explosive passing game.
Football programs have carried the heaviest burden for athletic departments for decades.
Quarterback Levi Lewis left the spring as the No. 1 quarterback after connecting on 37 of 59 passes for 585 yards with seven TDs and two interceptions as a sophomore a year ago.
Moreover, Lewis, or whichever UL quarterback gets playing time, is expected to be throwing to a more talented receiving corps this fall. The wide receivers were the stars of the Cajuns’ spring game, from veterans Ja’Marcus Bradley and Bam Jackson to emerging threats Calif Gossett, Brian Smith and Jamal Bell.
“We’ve got guys all over the field,” Lewis said of his receivers after the spring game. “It’s going to be hard to stop us if everybody’s at their best.”
Perhaps even the tight end could be a threat.
It’s been eight years since a UL tight end caught as many as 20 passes or reached 200 yards in a season.
“Oh yeah,” Napier said. “We’ll do that and hopefully pretty consistently”
Pride in Sun Belt football at all-time high
During the spring, Napier raved about the potential NFL ability of Johnny Lumpkin, the downfield receiving potential of Chase Rogers and the physical approach of Pearse Migl.
“I do think our tight end room took a step forward in the spring,” Napier said. “The tight end position in this system is the most complicated position on our team. They have to know everything. We played some rookies in year one of this system, so being in year two for them is huge.”
The wait for Year 2 of the Billy Napier era at UL is only a week away and everyone representing the Ragin’ Cajuns at Monday’s Sun Belt Confere…