UL coach Billy Napier quickly declined the temptation to dabble in what might have been after Saturday’s 38-28 loss to Mississippi State in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But his Ragin’ Cajuns certainly gave the glass-half-full faction of their fan base plenty of material to run with for the rest of its Labor Day weekend.
“We don’t live in that world,” Napier said. “We don’t live in the ‘what-if’ world. Reality is that’s a good football team. Give them some credit. They certainly executed in some situations.
“They did not turn the ball over (as much). They did not have as many undisciplined penalties as we had. You’ve got to give those guys some credit too.”
"We're very appreciative of all of our fans that came over to New Orleans. We had great alumni events last night and investor receptions. It w…
Fair enough, but the long list of seemingly self-inflicted miscues definitely left plenty of room for Vermilion-and-White frustration.
Napier’s Cajuns had five turnovers — three lost fumbles and two interceptions.
By comparison, UL lost only three fumbles all of last season.
“The old adage that the first way to win is you don’t beat yourself,” Napier said. “I think that applies. There’s going to be so many lessons for our football team.”
Junior quarterback Levi Lewis also threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage and lost control of a pass for a fumble to end the Cajuns’ fourth drive.
As his UL Ragin’ Cajuns football team prepares to open the 2019 season at 11 a.m. Saturday against Mississippi State in the Mercedes-Benz Supe…
“I thought he was a little anxious early and rightfully so,” Napier said. “The guy has tremendous passion. You can see once he settled in.
"Think about the things we went through in that game.
“His first start, certainly an opportunity to play in a terrific venue to kind of come out of the woodworks and throw it to the other team on the first play. The guy was prepared. Sometimes we overestimate the event and we underestimate the process.”
Lewis completed 24 of 39 passes for 267 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
At times during Jamal Bell’s first season at UL, it didn’t appear he was having much fun.
That doesn’t even include a fourth-and-1 fumble of a lateral pass that thwarted a first-quarter drive that had reached the Bulldogs’ 25.
As it turned out, it was supposed to be a double-pass back to Lewis.
“I felt like it could have helped us get a spark,” said UL junior receiver Jamal Bell, who shined with eight receptions for 118 yards in the loss. “Honestly, Levi probably would have scored if we would have gotten that play off.”
The mistakes filtered into the second half as well. Only trailing 21-14 at half, UL got a critical 15-yard unnecessary roughness flag that put the offense way behind the chains to ruin that drive.
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Then the next drive ended with an uncharacteristic fumble at the Bulldogs’ 12 after four first downs. Still, UL only trailed 28-14 midway through the third quarter.
“The area where we’ve got to improve is discipline,” Napier said. “I felt like we were a little sloppy at times procedurally, and we didn’t handle some of the situations in the game well. Certainly when you turn the ball over or had undisciplined penalties.
“Those are things you can control, whether it’s the player or the coach. And I take total responsibility for that. Myself and our staff, we’re going to get that right. That’s not the type football we want to (play).”
Playing the biggest role in making the Cajuns play for their miscues was Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, who dominated much of the game with 27 carries for 197 yards and a touchdown.
Most fans are focused on the football side of college football.
Graduate transfer quarterback Tommy Stevens was 20-of-30 passing for 236 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Wide receiver Osirus Mitchell also proved tough for the Cajuns’ defense to handle with six catches for 88 yards and a score.
Still, through it all, the Cajuns kept the pressure on Mississippi State.
A 17-yard touchdown run by Trey Ragas with 2:45 left to play made it a one-score game at 35-28.
At that point, Napier and special teams coordinator Matt Powledge elected for an onside kick attempt.
“Matt and I talked about it,” Napier said. “We felt like, “OK, let’s roll the dice.’ We’ve been executing that pretty well. Defensively, if we’re going to stop them, we’re going to stop them in the first three downs, truth be known. Even if we don’t get the kick, they’re not quite in field goal range and they’re going to have to punt it back. We felt like that was the one play that if we could execute it, it would be worth doing.
“I don’t have reservations about that decision, given the way the day was going and the way they were rushing the football.”
The Cajuns finished with 27 first downs, 431 total yards and converting four of 10 tries on third down.
“I thought we responded well,” Napier said. “We kept getting off the mat.
“Let me tell you something, there was a lot of good out there (too). That is a really good opponent. Time will tell how good they are, but certainly an SEC West opponent that we had on the ropes.”