Much of the offense’s emphasis during the offseason was improving on the unit’s deep passing game.
It continued to pay huge dividends during Tuesday’s dominating 41-13 victory over Appalachian State, beginning with the second play from scrimmage when quarterback Levi Lewis connected with Kyren Lacy for a 55-yard strike to the Mountaineers’ 16 to set up the first of three early touchdown drives.
“We’ve always played these guys and we’ve always felt like they’re just daring you to throw it,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “We had a good plan (Tuesday) to take some shots and we hit the ball early.
“It affected how they played defense, once they saw they had to respect the pass.”
For Lewis, the success in the deep passing game has been especially sweet this season.
“It means a lot,” Lewis said. “Your work has been paying off just by the offseason and the O-line with the way they're protected. They did their job. They made my job easy by the way they protect well and with the receivers running great routes. It’s a good feeling.”
Long drive specialists
UL’s offense has had issues on third down and being consistent at times this season. Putting together long scoring drives, though, hasn’t been a problem.
With four touchdown drives of 85 or more yards already this season — highlighted by a 99-yarder against Nicholls — the Cajuns added a 13-play, 98-yard touchdown drive in 7:54.
“I think the big thing is we did it when it mattered the most,” Napier said. “We needed to get out of that hole.”
The long drive came as the third rolled over into the fourth quarter, squashing some building momentum by Appalachian State for good.
“We kind of bobbled a kick and got a penalty,” Napier said. “After the first turnover touchdown, we were kind of playing field position a little bit. They kept us down there. I think we went three and out and we kind of punted. We needed to get out of there.”
It started with a “naked” bootleg pass to tight end Pearse Migl and was later boosted by a 26-yard Montrell Johnson run before his two-yard scoring plunge ended it.
“Pearse is a guy who is a very underrated player, a very valuable player,” Napier said. “Levi hit him on the naked there and we got out of the hole. Then we proceeded to execute at a really high rate. It’s situational football. We challenge our players to be situation experts, and there was obviously a lot of situational football in the game tonight.”
It’s been a problem all season long, but third down was UL’s friend throughout Tuesday’s win.
It was the first time this season the offense converted over 50% at 8-of-15 on third down and also 1-for-1 on fourth down.
Defensively, the Cajuns limited Appalachian State to 0-for-11 on third down.
“We always preach, ‘Third down is the only down,’” cornerback Eric Garror said. “On third down, we go out there and try to dominate to get the offense back on the field.
“Coach (Patrick) Toney always preaches about third down. We go over that all the time. We come back in the day after the game. We’ve got to get off the field on third down.”
Not quite perfect
As close as it was to perfection, there was one area that Napier quickly pointed out needs improvement.
UL got outplayed in the kickoff return category, getting outgained 122-58. The kickoffs were short to help produce 117 yards on six returns and Chris Smith only gained 25 yards on two returns.
“We need to cover kicks better,” Napier said. “They spit a couple out there past the 30 on us. We need to get that cleaned up.”
Also, the Cajuns didn’t attempt a field goal and missed one extra point.