For all those UL Ragin’ Cajuns football fans dreaming big while enjoying a little time in the national spotlight, Wednesday’s 30-27 home loss to Coastal Carolina was naturally a huge punch in the gut.

If your expectation for this season was for coach Billy Napier’s team to go undefeated, there’s no consolation … no moving forward after the frustrating fourth quarter that left the Cajuns 3-1.

For the rest of us, there’s plenty of positive from Wednesday’s intriguing matchup to stow away for the rest of the season.

“I think the big thing for our team is everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us,” Napier said. “We’ve been here in the past. We’ve got good leadership among the players and I think that’ll benefit us here.

“The true test is when things aren’t going your way, right? How are you going to respond? I’m excited to see what we can accomplish with this group of young men in the future.”

My question going into Wednesday's game was, would the Cajuns be rusty or rested after the long layoff going back to Sept. 26?

There were some missteps, but it's unlear if those were related to time off or the talent of the Chanticleers.

We’ll never know if AJ Washington would have held on to that dropped interception with three games under his belt.

“I don’t think it affected us negatively,” Senior offensive guard Ken Marks said about the long layoff. “We worked every day, like we were preparing for a game every weekend. Coach Napier has a good plan and we just followed us.

“I believe we were ready for this game. We just had a team come in and capitalize on our mistakes.”

Fair enough, but if long layoffs don’t have a down side, UL would have never asked Coastal to move to the game to Oct. 10 to begin with.

Maybe the Cajuns simply underrated Coastal after UL trounced them 48-7 on the road last season.

These Cajuns may have been 3-0, may have knocked off a power five foe on the road for the first time ever and may have been ranked nationally for the first time since 1943.

But this team still hasn’t approached the level the 2019 team enjoyed yet. Only poll-blinded Cajuns fans weren't fearful of this matchup.

Fortunately, there’s still time.

In fact, Napier isn’t so sure the loss won’t speed up that process.

“Sometimes it takes a game like this to really right the ship,” Napier said. “My years at Bama that we won the national championship, we always got beat. At some point in the first half of the season, we would lose a game and that really caused us to make the necessary adjustments.

“I think a tight one like that was emotional and certainly the guys competed their hearts out, when we watch the tape, this is going to help us going forward.”

Most of the defensive concerns during Wednesday’s game won’t apply moving forward because of how patiently good and how unique Coastal is offensively.

Offensively, there were some bright spots. It sure seemed like watching Levi Lewis run all over the field was long overdue and could open up some things in future games.

It was encouraging to see senior wide receiver Jalen Williams play a bigger role with four receptions for 89 yards and a score.

Moreover, Marks said the offensive line progressed in the loss.

“I believe we played better than the previous few weeks,” he insisted. “Every week we’re getting better. We kind of had a chip on our shoulders this week. I think we played good, but we had a few mistakes and it cost us obviously. But we’re going to keep on working and get better every week.”

And despite the difficulties in the loss, Napier said he never saw his team flinch. The “intangibles,” as he typically describes it, remained in tact. That’s critical moving forward.

Junior safety Ja’len Johnson said the defense never lost focus.

“Mentally, we stayed locked in,” he said. “That’s all we can and try to get off the field the next chance we get.”

The biggest problem now may be the next opponent — the UAB Blazers 7 p.m. Friday on the road — isn’t an easy rebound opportunity.

“Every person in the entire organization — players, staff — has to take a good look in the mirror and see, “O, what can I do to improve my role on the team?’” Napier said. “The collective effort of that I think will lead to improvement. We have to make sure we take this and channel all of these emotions we’re feeling and make sure we use those things to fuel the future.”

All of that may be so, but it’s always remarkable how one fewer penalty, hanging on to one more pass or one different read can completely change the entire outlook for a team and a season.

“Any loss is going to be difficult to take, but you have take them as lessons and learn from them,” Marks said. “Obviously, we wanted to go undefeated, we wanted to win every game, but God didn’t see fit. So we just have to go work and be ready for UAB.”

Now it’s up to the Cajuns to make sure one doesn’t become two before they ever get into a routine again.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.