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Football: Smith finds niche in offense

Big plays have become Smith’s ‘M.O.’

Derrick Smith remembers last year’s game against North Texas, the one in which he had a career high in catches and yardage.

The UL junior also has vivid recollections from last weekend’s game, when he turned in two big plays that provided or set up the Cajuns’ two touchdowns against Central Florida.

Good memories? Think again.

The Cajuns didn’t win either game, and the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product doesn’t care much for individual numbers if the scoreboard numbers aren’t in his favor.

"I don’t look at it like that," he said. "You can’t look at it as I’m doing good and the team’s doing bad. There’s nobody on this team that’s thinking like that."

Smith and his fellow Cajun receivers probably won’t be thinking about reception numbers or yardage numbers for Saturday’s 6 p.m. home contest against the Mean Green. The only number that matters is 0-1, which is both teams’ record in Sun Belt Conference play.

Of course, if Smith can match the numbers he posted last week against UCF, or the ones he assembled in last year’s UNT game, UL’s chances of improving that 0-1 figure increase.

"Derrick has a knack for making plays," said head coach Rickey Bustle. "Since he was hurt he hadn’t been working on our punt block team, but against McNeese I turned to him and asked if he could go and get it, and he said he could."

Smith blocked a punt in that game, adding to his success as a receiver and a return specialist.

"I know I want the ball in my hands," Smith said. "I’ll do anything to help our team, and I can help more if I have the ball. Earlier this year I couldn’t do a lot of the things I wanted to do because of my hamstring, but now I feel like I can make plays to help us."

Smith had three catches for 88 yards last Saturday, the biggest one a 28-yard touchdown grab from Michael Desormeaux early in the fourth quarter that kept UL within shouting distance of what eventually became a 37-19 loss to the Golden Knights.

He had an even bigger play earlier, returning the second-half kickoff 86 yards to the UCF 3 to set up the Cajuns’ first touchdown. But by that time, UL trailed 30-6 after surrendering 14 points in the final two minutes of the first half and not cashing in on its own opportunities.

"We beat ourselves," said Smith, who did not return kickoffs early in the season because of a sore hamstring from fall camp. "We got in the red zone a number of times and couldn’t push it in. We’ve got to take advantage when we get those chances."

Smith had more than twice as many catches as any other UL receiver last year with 41 grabs for 551 yards, but only found the end zone once. That came against the Mean Green on the last play of the first half, and he also had a 45-yard catch on that drive to set up the score as part of his seven-catch, 102-yard game.

That touchdown was UL’s only score in a surprising 16-7 loss, one that ended UL’s hopes of a Sun Belt title. He’s already doubled that touchdown total this year and enters Saturday ranked fourth in the league in receiving (79 yards per game on 20 catches for 395 yards). He also ranks in the top 10 nationally in kickoff returns with a 31.0 average.

But the numbers haven’t translated to a win yet.

"This team’s still very positive," Smith said. "We still have seven more games left and most of the conference games where it matters. This one’s important because we’ve already lost the one game to Troy, and we have to try to win them all from here on out."

The Associated Press

Louisiana wide out Derrick Smith has become a big-play threat for the Cajuns (pictured here scoring on an 18-yard touchdown pass), but so far his big-play efforts have fell short of securing a victory for the Cajuns this season.