AMES, Iowa — Much of the preseason talk about UL’s offense centered around the inexperienced wide receivers.
The questions certainly weren’t erased by the Cajuns’ 31-14 road upset of Iowa State on Saturday.
But there may be more options for future success than some realized.
Technically, senior quarterback Levi Lewis only completed 13 of his 21 attempts for 154 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
And even that was a bit deceptive, because a handful of those completions were glorified hand-offs.
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But sophomore Devon Pauley played a lot and contributed a critical 16-yard reception under pressure on the sidelines to ignite the Cajuns’ two-minute drill that ended with a field goal before the half to cut Iowa State’s lead to 14-10.
Jalen Williams only had two catches, but they went for 22 yards and two first downs. Transfer Golden Eke got his first catch out of the way.
True freshman Kyren Lacy had a 14-yard drive to follow up Pauley’s big grab late in the second quarter as well.
Of course, the golden egg in the win was caught by sophomore Peter LeBlanc with a 78-yard touchdown catch from Lewis to give the Cajuns the lead for good at 17-14 with 2:02 left in the third period.
“They play that three-safety high shell, keeping everything in front of them,” Lewis said. “So you don’t want to force the ball. With the runs, they’re keeping everything in front of them and coming down hard on us. Come halftime, we adjusted to some things. That’s what the result looks like when you adjust at halftime.”
Not only was it the first game of the season, but it wasn’t even scheduled until five weeks ago. Furthermore, it came after an offseason like no college team had ever experienced.
So season-opening miscues and sloppiness was to be expected.
Both teams had several drops in the first half, including a couple from Cajuns’ tight end Johnny Lumpkin, who missed all of last season with an injury.
The drops also hit Iowa State on its third drive of the game — two in fact — to force a 34-yard punt to the UL 12.
Furthermore, both passing offenses struggled to get the passing game going. Lewis also missed a great opportunity for a second first-down completion to an open Williams with an errant third-down toss.
Time will tell on some of these scenarios, but the Cajuns also missed a 27-yard field goal to end their third drive of the game. It was 0-0 at the time. It was Nate Snyder’s first collegiate field goal attempt. The Indiana graduate transfer was a kickoff specialist for the Hoosiers.
It later became a really rough day for Snyder, who missed a 30-yarder in the middle of the field with 3:59 left to play in the third quarter with UL only trailing 14-10 at the time.
On the other hand, there were very few penalties. Iowa State were only penalized three times for 24 yards, while the Cajuns only had two flags for 22 yards.
Tight end talk
With all of the pregame talk surrounding Iowa State’s highly regarded trio of tight ends, it turned out the Cajuns only had to face two of them.
Charlie Kolar was ruled out of the game with a “lower body injury,” but that didn’t keep the Cyclones from throwing to the other two. Chase Allen caught a critical 16-yarder for a first down one play before Breece Hall’s 11-yard touchdown run to give the Cyclones a 14-7 lead with 1:17 left until intermission.
In the end, though, Kolar’s absence was huge. The Cyclones only got two receptions for 31 yards from Allen and none from 6-foot-7 senior Dylan Soehner.
On the other hand, the early returns on UL’s tight end position being more productive this season weren’t good. No UL tight ends recorded a catch in the game, including the two drops by Lumpkin.
Continuing his career-long struggle with injuries, UL junior defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill wasn’t able to play in Saturday’s game. Napier had listed him as questionable during Wednesday’s news teleconference.
During training camp, Napier suggested he liked the depth on the defensive line, especially from youngsters.
A pair of true freshmen in Sonny Hazard and Mason Narcisse both played extensively.
“We limited their running,” Napier said. “There was only a handful of explosive runs today, maybe just one if I remember correctly. So we limited the run game and made them throw the ball. And then tight coverage and pushing the pocket keeping the guy in the pocket, affecting the quarterback … we created some negative plays on early downs today and got them behind the stick. They were 8 of 19 on conversion downs. That would be a win for the Cajuns.”