UL football coach Billy Napier didn’t see much different on tape than what he saw in person Saturday — a 25-point-underdog Ragin’ Cajuns team that was a break or two away from a first-ever win over an SEC team.
“There’s a lot of positives on that tape,” Napier said Monday of the Cajuns’ 38-28 loss to Mississippi State in Saturday’s opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. “It’s a one-score game with about two minutes and 30 seconds left in the fight. If anything, it should give you a little bit of confidence.
“I’m very proud of our players and our staff. I thought we put players in position. Outside of a handful of calls, I thought we had a good plan in all three phases, I was pleased with the effort our players played with, it was certainly very physical and very tough, and the competitive spirit was what you would want.”
It’s already been said countless times since UL’s 38-28 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
That being said, Napier harped during his Monday news conference on how much his team has to fix before this weekend’s home opener against Liberty University.
“We need more football plays where we go 11 for 11,” he said. “There’s a lot of plays where we have a little bit of a glitch or an issue and we’re 10 for 11, we’ve got one guy that’s a holdup. There’s damage that can do. You’re laying in bed that night and thinking about all the things that maybe you could have done better.”
A 12-yard Trey Ragas touchdown run with 2:45 left pulled the Cajuns within 35-28, but a following onside kick went out of bounds and the Bulldogs drove to a clinching field goal with 1:02 remaining. That came after a 35-14 fourth-quarter deficit against a Mississippi State team ranked in several preseason top 25 polls and just outside the top 25 (third among teams receiving votes) in the initial AP listing.
“In the fourth quarter, we knew we did (had a chance),” said offensive guard Kevin Dotson, whose team had 285 offensive yards in the second half after a slow start. “During the whole game we knew the things that happened we can’t change, the fumbles, the mistakes, we had to fight our hardest and get back into it.”
The Cajuns hurt themselves with four turnovers including an uncharacteristic three lost fumbles, matching the total of the entire 2018 season. But Napier pointed less at the turnovers and more at what he called his team’s undisciplined mistakes.
“We had two personal fouls in the game, and those are two that are chunks of yards you’d like to have back,” said Napier of two calls against offensive tackle Robert Hunt and linebacker Kris Moncrief. “Not being critical, but going back and looking at it, I can see exactly where our players were coming from. There’s a lesson for Kris … if that’s a running back probably it’s a no-call and you go on to the next play, but that’s the quarterback and you have to have awareness that they’re going to protect the quarterback.
“Outside of that, we had five penalties for 45 yards so that’s three 5-yarders. We have to eliminate those for sure. We’d like to play a game and only have technical fouls, and certainly in this game we had five fouls and all of them were undisciplined.”
One of those turnovers was quarterback Levi Lewis’ interception on UL’s first offensive play. A pass originally ruled an interception on a game-ending “Hail Mary” was changed to an incompletion after a postgame film review, making Lewis 24-of-39 for 267 yards and one score.
Lewis finished officially with minus 10 yards rushing on six carries including two sacks, but that number was skewed when he was credited with a 23-yard loss on a botched double-pass play midway through the first quarter — a play where the Baton Rouge junior was the target for a return pass into a wide-open field. Napier said he was pleased with Lewis’ first start since his 2017 true-freshman season.
“There’s no question you don’t want to start the season by throwing it to the other team,” he said, “but it wasn’t all him. There were some distribution issues on the route. The guy (Lewis) showed he’s mentally tough, he didn’t flinch, the guy just went back to work. Once he kind of settled in a little bit, you saw what I’ve been seeing for a while, the guy can be a very effective player. He can extend the play, escape, he can run and he’s got a big arm.”
Lewis only had two designed quarterback runs during the game, and Napier said that was by design.
For those who thought the 11 a.m. starting time was a bit strange, they quickly were treated to a host of very odd plays in the first half of …
“I’m not a big quarterback-run guy,” he said. “We’d like to play where the quarterback doesn’t get hit the entire day … maybe that’s because I played quarterback. But the quarterback in our system, there’s so much going on out there where the guy’s got to make so many decisions based on the defense. I’d much rather hand it to the running backs we have, I’d much rather throw it to the skill that we have at receiver and tight end. The couple of scenarios where he did run it, it was the right decision on his part.”
Liberty (0-1) is coming off a 24-0 shutout at Syracuse on Saturday, but Napier said that’s not an indication of the Flames’ offensive firepower with returning quarterback Stephen Calvert (20-of-39 for 234 yards against Syracuse).
“Liberty’s got a handful of players that are explosive,” he said. “Really good skill on offense, and the quarterback’s a proven passer who spread it around last year and threw for all kinds of yards.”
UL coach Billy Napier quickly declined the temptation to dabble in what might have been after Saturday’s 38-28 loss to Mississippi State in th…