After UL’s historic 31-14 road win over No. 23 Iowa State to earn a spot in the Top 25 itself for the first time since World War II, it’s the next logical issue to explore.
Even head coach Billy Napier brought it up in his postgame comments Saturday in Ames, Iowa, just as the team’s celebration was heating up.
Will the Ragin’ Cajuns have an emotional letdown this Saturday at Georgia State?
It can be a complicated subject.
First, there’s the common misconception in the mid-major world that beating a team from a Power Five conference means Sun Belt games suddenly get easier. That’s not accurate in most situations.
AMES, Iowa — Normally when head coaches start dividing out credit for a great victory by mentioning the administration and all the behind-the-…
Then there’s the potential trouble of dealing with all of the sudden praise you the team receives.
Not only is UL now ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and No. 21 in the coaches poll, but senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner was honored as the national Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week, Chris Smith was the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week and the Cajuns were named the FWAA National Team of the Week for the first time ever.
That can be a lot to swallow all at one time. It can be easy to have such accolades affect your perspective on the big picture … even if it’s just for one week.
Napier wasted no time addressing the issue Monday, starting with his coaching staff.
“I told our coaches in the staff meeting earlier, I told them, ‘Put your phone up and do your job,’ ” Napier said. “I think oftentimes some of that emotion and the benefits of that win bleed over into Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I think it’s important that we put that on the shelf and get back to work.”
There’s no doubt Napier and the team leaders will say the right things. We’ll find out Saturday how well the team listens.
Then there’s the historic parallel.
AMES, Iowa — He deserved to be the center of attention.
On Sept. 14, 1996, the Cajuns beat No. 25 Texas A&M 29-22 at Cajun Field. The goal post was carried out of the stadium. The place went nuts. Fans still relive those stories fairly often 24 years later.
On Sept. 21, 1996, the Cajuns were blasted 52-27 at Southern Miss.
Could such a hangover happen again? Could the Cajuns lose Saturday at Georgia State on ESPN2?
Of course they could.
But while we’ll get most of those answers Saturday, there are plenty of reasons to believe the 2020 Cajuns will handle this unique situation quite well … focus-wise at least.
As for the comparison to the 1996 turnaround, that next game was in Hattiesburg. Other than the Mike Lemoine game — a 24-21 road win at USM in 1989, which yours truly still ranks as the No. 1 win in program history — getting blasted at Southern Miss was common place in the 1980s and 90s. (Lemoine booted a last-second, 50-yarder to win it.)
Trust me, UL didn’t need an emotional letdown to get beat in '96. That USM squad finished 8-3 and was three weeks removed from a road win at Georgia.
Sure, there were big plays that played a huge role in UL’s road upset of No. 23 Iowa State.
The other major reason to believe this team will handle the emotional challenge this week is its leadership. From Napier down to the team leaders, this squad handled an offseason filled with distractions like champions.
Getting beat because they overlooked Georgia State would be out of character for these players. Now it’s up to the team to avoid being derailed by a little national attention.
For Napier, that’s about leaning on the routine.
“I really think it’s just about hitting the reset button,” Napier said. “Each day of the week relative to Sunday to Saturday when we kick it off, we’ve got a very detailed plan for the individual players, each staff member and every member of the organization … almost down to the minute what we should be working on and when we should be working on it. I think it’s about the quality and intensity and focus of the work, rather than the emotions of the win Saturday and being distracted by that.”
Junior center Shane Vallot doesn’t believe being ranked nationally for the first time since FDR was president is much of a burden on this team.
Talk about a truly special victory for the University of Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns.
“I honestly don’t feel like there’s that much extra on us,” Vallot said. “We don’t really worry about that national ranking. It’s good to have, but we’re not really worried about that. We’ve got bigger things to worry about. We’ve got to keep moving forward. The only thing we’re worried about right now is Georgia State. We’re not worried about the ranking or anybody else.”
If you listen to Napier, the win at Iowa State was mostly about all the work his team did with nobody watching during the turbulent offseason.
Now that UL has got the nation’s attention, we’ll see if the result changes.
Napier’s goal: “Channeling the energy, creating momentum and not losing sight of what got you where you’re at.”