UL linebackers Lorenzo McCaskill and Joe Dillon celebrate a sack of Miami quarterback Brett Gabbert during the Cajuns' 27-17 LendingTree Bowl win Monday in Mobile, Ala.

MOBILE, Ala. — There are those against the concept of playing a bowl game that doesn’t decide the national championship after New Year’s Day.

But while that approach is understandable, there were an awful lot of things to like about UL’s 27-17 bowl win over Miami (Ohio) on Monday at Ladd Peebles Stadium.

Naturally, the most important thing is that UL won. Sure, some cynics simply view bowl games as mere exhibition games, but the Cajuns’ current situation is an exception.

When you’re building a program with lofty goals, the last thing you need is a trend of not being able to win in the postseason.

Another 0-2 (Sun Belt championship game and bowl game) finish certainly wouldn't have ruined the program, but it would have been unsettling going forward.

For the coaches, the win was a fitting way to say goodbye to a senior class that has endeared itself to the coaching staff because of the critical role it played in establishing Napier’s new approach in the locker room.

In their minds, this senior class deserved a bowl win.

“That’s what our staff wanted the most for this group,” Napier said. “We have a handful of talented guys in this senior group, but we also have some really exceptional people, some guys who maybe don’t play but 10, 12, 15 plays in the game, but, man, they’re some of our better leaders. They’re alpha people — vocal and completely invested in what we’re doing. This group is a really special group.”

All three units met the challenge.

Miami’s special teams were excellent and the Cajuns matched them. All the kicks were made, the coverage was great and the punting was top notch.

The Cajuns' offense was challenged by Miami’s aggressive front seven and countered with an explosive passing game. That passing game enjoyed solid contributions from receivers like Jalen Williams, Calif Gossett and Jamal Bell — among the biggest question marks entering the season.

The defense still didn’t seem as dominant as in the first eight games of the season, but it came up with big plays and limited Miami to 351 yards total.

“Coach (Ron) Roberts started calling different plays," UL junior cornerback Eric Garror said. "Then at halftime we went in and changed some of our looks, making the necessary adjustments.”

Terik Miller led UL with eight tackles, including a critical touchdown-saving tackle of Miami receiver James Maye near the goal line.

“As a team, we made good adjustments offensively and defensively,” Napier said. “The quarterback was playing good, a lot of run-pass option stuff. They’re taking what you give them. They were on today. I thought their skill players ran good, crisp routes and got open.

“It’s a catch-22. You put an extra guy in there to stop the run and the ball’s being thrown. Play an extra guy in coverage, the ball’s getting handed off. So it was a bit of a cat-and-mouse game.”

That made it a game worth waiting for.

Miami’s contingent made it fun, too. These guys simply had a ball throughout the weekend. It was also admirable to hear how RedHawks quarterback Brett Gabbert handled the critical bad snap to him from the UL 1 on fourth down for a 23-yard loss to ice the win for the Cajuns.

“I think it just slipped off (center) Danny’s (Godlevske) fingers,” Gabbert said. “That stuff just happens sometimes and you can’t control it. I’m never going to blame him; he’s a first-team all-MAC center and it just happened. That play didn’t lose the game for us. Turning the ball over twice and not getting first downs lost us the game.”

Adding to the intrigue of this matchup were implications for the future. Miami is on its way back from probably the most dismal decade in the program’s history after coach Chuck Martin’s sixth season and winning the MAC championship.

The Cajuns, meanwhile, are also just getting started.

So often special seasons like this 11-3 campaign at this level are mostly fueled by a large group of fifth-year seniors. That’s not the case this time. Sure it’s going to be tough replacing guys like guard Kevin Dotson, receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley, defensive end Bennie Higgins, linebacker Jacques Boudreaux and running back Raymond Calais, but most of the team is returning and the team’s depth is only getting better.

In other words, 11 wins and a bowl win is no longer the goal.

“That’s part of the motivation for the game — send the seniors out the right way was at the top of the list, but also want to create momentum for the future,” said Napier, who made it clear Sunday he plans to be UL’s head coach again next season.

In the minds of this UL braintrust, this historic season is only the beginning. The job is not yet done.

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