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UL linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill (2) sacks Georgia Southern quarterback Justin Tomlin during the Cajuns' 28-20 win Saturday.

There were a lot of good things to say about every area of the UL squad after Saturday’s 28-20 road win against Georgia Southern.

The offense hit on two long touchdown passes. The defense limited the Eagles to 6 of 15 on third down and 1 of 5 on fourth down.

And the special teams blocked two kicks, including the program's first blocked field goal in 10 years.

Despite all of those contributions, there was still a feeling of dissatisfaction behind the team's smiles.

The game shouldn’t have been that close.

Like so many times over the past two seasons, the Cajuns weren’t able to deliver the knockout punch when an opponent was staggering.

“I think when we watch this tape tonight or tomorrow, we’re going to see opportunities where we had them on the mat and we could have made them tap out and we didn’t do that,” UL coach Billy Napier said after the game. “That’s going to be an area of our team where we need to improve.”

Typically it takes consistent execution to achieve that feat. That hasn’t been there this season.

“There were times where we’ve got them in a full nelson and we just don’t put them away,” quarterback Levi Lewis said. “We’ve got to put a big emphasis on that. There’s been a lot of games where we have teams in a choke hold and we just seem to let them go, let them breathe. We’ve got to fix that issue.”

Senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner said it’s a matter of repeating maximum effort.

“Like today in the game plan, we fit up plays perfectly and they’ll come around and run the same exact play, and we don’t fit it up perfectly,” Gardner said. “It’s in those situations where coach Toney has really been preaching consistency and execution.”

Defensive lineman Andre Jones said the game plan was on point.

“The plan, it was a great plan,” said Jones, who had five tackles and two pass breakups. “Anything they capitalized on, it was given to them — probably just not in our right gap or something like that, not having the right leverage on a play or a missed tackle.”

The problem seems apparent offensively. The unit simply is not good at converting on third down.

Even with touchdown passes of 46 and 48 yards by Lewis, the Cajuns finished with only 378 total yards. That’s because UL converted 3-of-14 tries on third down.

Some credit goes to Georgia Southern’s defense for being focused in the Sun Belt opener, but this was an Eagles’ defense giving up 383 passing yards and 525 total yards a game in the three previous contests.

“They had their team ready to play,” Napier said. “They were tough. They were physical, which is what you would expect. We kind of felt that way after watching the first two games. They’re close and getting better and improving.”

Napier said UL’s passing game missed several opportunities to do more damage early, and the defense giving up a 76-yard touchdown run on third down didn’t help.

If it was a one-time thing, it would be easier to shrug off. A win is a win, especially in league play on the road.

But South Alabama’s defense is much better than Georgia Southern, and the all-important Appalachian State game is a few weeks away.

The issues are not a secret. Now it’s a matter of finding a solution before it’s too late.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.