The progress chart for UL’s young wide receivers took another step in the right direction during Saturday’s 20-18 win over Georgia Southern, according to UL coach Billy Napier.
Stealing the show in this one, however, was Lafayette Christian product Errol Rogers.
No, Rogers didn’t have huge numbers, but he made the first three receptions of his collegiate career. One was a 27-yard touchdown catch to give UL the lead in the fourth period and the final one was a 12-yard grab during the Cajuns’ eventual game-winning drive.
“How about, Errol Rogers is a guy that I think deserves a little credit,” Napier said. “First time playing for the Cajuns — LCA local kid, chose to stay home — makes a critical touchdown catch, which was a tough catch. Then a huge, big explosive play in the final drive of the game.”
In addition to Rogers, Kyren Lacy had two receptions for 47 yards, and redshirt sophomore Kaleb Carter had one reception for 8 yards. Redshirt sophomore Devon Pauley added two catches for 47 yards, and sophomore Peter LeBlanc added three grabs for 64.
“A lot of our conversation this week has been about being more precise and more detailed in the route running, but also playing better without the ball,” Napier said. “We definitely took a step forward in both of those areas today.
“Those guys (WR coaches Tim Leger and Matt Bergeron) worked hard with those young receivers this week, and they definitely improved and they’re definitely going to need to continue to improve.”
It was difficult to say the two defenses played well in the first half. Perhaps fair to say both defensive units did a good job of keeping the opposing offenses off the scoreboard.
Both had the ball four times and seven of those eight possessions ended in enemy territory. Georgia Southern led at the half in first downs 12-10 and yards rushing 128-93, while the Cajuns led in passing 132-68.
And yet, the first quarter ended scoreless and the halftime score was 7-7 for several reasons. For one, a huge play by Kam Pedescleaux — a 4-yard loss on Shai Werts — on fourth-and-goal from the UL 3-yard line ended the Eagles’ first drive.
“We’re lucky there that we were able to get that stop,” Napier said.
That was a 15-play, 68-yard drive in 8:09 that produced zero points.
The Cajuns experienced a similar fate with an 11-play, 78-yard drive in 3:05, only to turn it over on downs at the Eagles’ 15. Theoretically, that was Napier being fearful of his team’s ability to kick field goals. Kicker Nate Snyder showed why when he missed a 34-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to put him at 1 for 5 for the season.
The Cajuns were able to mix in a nine-play, 83-yard touchdown drive in 5:22 in between that wasted opportunity and a Levi Lewis interception with 1:19 left until halftime.
Georgia Southern also wasted a 13-play, 41-yard drive in 7:06 with a punt.
“There was some cumulative effect there (on defense),” Napier said. “We considered a lot of things throughout the day to try to steal a possession, but didn’t quite feel like there was a time or maybe the spot to make some of those calls.
“But you have to credit Georgia Southern. They came in there and they had a really good plan. Their plan to keep it tight worked and they made the plays at the end to take the lead.”
The Eagles finished the game with 447 yards to 438 for UL.
Napier is the Cajuns’ head coach, but he’s also the offensive play-caller.
He certainly wasn’t pleased with back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter Saturday.
After opening the fourth quarter with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Rogers to grab a 17-10 lead with 10:34 left to play, UL’s next two possessions each had the opportunity to ice the victory.
On the first one, workhorse senior back Trey Ragas ran it twice for 1 yard and then caught a dump-off pass out of the backfield for 6 before a punt.
The second one was another three-and-out, ending with an incomplete pass to a blanketed Lacy on third down.
“That’s one of the things we’ve got to take a good look at,” Napier said. “We called two direct runs right there and couldn’t get much of anything. It may be a little bit us and may have a lot to do with them. We can coach better and certainly once we watch the tape, we’ll be able to execute better.
“I’m with you. We really had two opportunities in my opinion to eat up some clock with the lead, and we weren’t able to do that. That’s something we’ve got to take a good look at. That’s something we can do better for sure.”
Napier calls all first-year performers “rookies,” even though some are true freshman and some aren’t.
Because of the eight starters out — six COVID-related and two on the injury report — that list grew exponentially for the Cajuns in Saturday’s win.
One of those was true freshman running back Emani Bailey. With Elijah Mitchell one of the eight starters not available and sophomore Chris Smith suffering a knee injury in the second quarter, the Cajuns had to give Bailey a turn.
Bailey delivered a 25-yard run on third-and-10 to set up a game-tying, 25-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
“There’s no question Emani had a huge run there on third down,” Napier said. “He called a zone-read concept and he broke it. You saw some of that second gear that he has. He’s a thick, low-to-the-ground compact player that has big-time speed. I love his intensity, the way he practices, his attitude. He’s very tough physical and wants to do his job for the team
“He’s one of those players today that got his first opportunity. A lot of guys played out there today that it was really their first time to have significant snaps.”
Bailey finished with 27 yards on three carries.