Emani Bailey

UL running back Emani Bailey led the Cajuns with 81 yards, but only on seven carries in Saturday's 20-18 win over South Alabama.

The UL Ragin’ Cajuns are 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference play with two road wins, but that only begins to tell the story.

There are numerous mysteries about this 4-1 team that bring frustration and doubt.

Take Saturday’s 20-18 win over South Alabama, for example.

The Cajuns were playing great defense for most of the game and then all of a sudden couldn’t stop the Jaguars.

On offense, the Cajuns were running it much better than expected in the rain against the No. 4 rushing defense in the country, only to shock their fans by leaning heavily on a passing game with 46 yards through three quarters down the stretch.

For the game, UL got 14 first downs on the ground and two in the air. Yet out of the 12 snaps in the final period, eight were passes and one of the four runs was a scramble.

Coach Billy Napier said after the game he felt the passing game was necessary to remain consistent offensively. That’s understandable going into the game against a defense only allowing 55 yards rushing a game through three games. But when you’ve rushed for 201 yards at 7.6 yards a clip through three quarters, that approach has to be adjusted.

Napier also explained his mindset by saying he felt like he was in second-and-long a lot more in the second half, which contributed to sticking with the passing game. In the first half, UL faced second-and-long five times, and four were because of unsuccessful passes on first down.

In the second half, there were five more — to be fair, two were because of 1-yard runs on first down and three were because of incomplete passes.

Whichever side you fall on in that debate, the true shame to me was the offensive line’s chance to be the hero of the win was spoiled by the pass-happy approach down the stretch.

Going into this game, the biggest question mark was the injuries to the offensive line. Yet through three quarters, the holes the line opened up were impressive. Of UL’s 30 carries before the final kneel-down series, 15 went for at least eight yards a pop.

All signs pointed to a storyline of praising the banged-up offensive line for bailing the offense out in the rain.

“It starts up front with my offensive linemen,” said running back Emani Bailey, who finished with 81 yards on just seven carries (11.6 avg). “I always have faith in them to open up those holes and make explosive runs like that to help win games.”

I’m not sure I’ve seen quarterback Levi Lewis consistently run with more passion and purpose than he did in this game.

Still, something just isn’t right with the passing game. The third-down completion to Michael Jefferson early in the fourth quarter was huge and quite impressive. The problem is there was only one other third-down conversion the rest of the night.

It’s hard to imagine that kind of efficiency winning the Sun Belt Conference title. It’s got to improve.

Then there’s the defense.

While it certainly delivered in the clutch over the last two weeks, it still doesn’t resemble last year’s unit through the first four games.

At times, the defense has been gashed on the ground, but at other times it can’t seem to defend the pass like a year ago.

It’s virtually the same team personnel-wise, although the coaching staff is mostly brand new.

Overall, the defense is sixth in the Sun Belt in passing efficiency, seventh in rushing defense and sixth on third down. Who predicted those numbers?

There’s just so many things that just don’t add up on this team.

Sure, there are other issues as well, but the placekicker situation is at least understandable. The starter was lost for the season and college teams across America have questionable reserve placekickers.

There’s still time to clean things up. The season isn’t over.

After the first few possessions against undefeated South Alabama, it seemed the Cajuns had found that spark just in time for next week’s Appalachian State game.

Then came the second half.


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.