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Football: UL’s New Orleans Bowl defense: ‘Perfect’

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, December 20, 2014



UL Ragin’ Cajuns linebacker Darzil Washington (39) sacks Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Cody Fajardo (17) during Saturday’s R�L Carriers New Orleans Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. (Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)



The task seemed daunting. The goal was even higher.

The UL defensive unit that had given up 27.9 points and 421.8 total yards a game was squared off against a Nevada offense that had scored 31.3 points and put up 413 total yards a contest.

So what did the UL defensive coaches ask the Ragin’ Cajuns defense to consider doing in Saturday’s New Orleans Bowl in the Superdome?

“They asked us to go out and try to play the perfect game,” UL senior defensive back Trevence Patt said.

In football, there’s no such thing as perfection, but the performance turned in by defensive coordinator James Willis’ unit on Saturday was like an expert Cajun cook tasting his masterpiece gumbo after putting in that last little pinch of seasoning and proclaiming it, “Perfect!”

At any rate, the Cajuns’ defense far exceeded anyone’s expectations by limiting quarterback Cody Fajardo and the Wolf Pack’s offense to 13 first downs, 89 yards rushing and 124 passing in a dominating 16-3 victory.

“We came pretty close,” Patt laughed. “We told our defensive lineman that if they could contain the quarterback that we could handle our men. We had seen their receivers on film. We go against our receivers every day in practice and our receivers were definitely better.”

During Saturday’s game, Fajardo became the only quarterback in the country this year to pass for over 2,000 yards and rush for over 1,000.

On Saturday, he was limited to 13 carries and 49 yards rushing and completed only 14 of 29 passes for 124 yards.

“We took the two weeks to our advantage,” said senior linebacker Jake Molbert, who had four tackles and one behind the line Saturday. “We wanted to shut down the running game and make them one-dimensional.”

On this day, the defense did just about whatever it wanted. Limiting Nevada to three points was the lowest total in N.O. Bowl history and the fewest in a bowl game period since Alabama blanked LSU 21-0 in January of 2012.

The last time Nevada scored as few as three points was getting shut out 35-0 by Notre Dame in 2009.

The 124 yards passing was the fewest in N.O. Bowl history and the 213 total yards allowed only missed the record by one yard (212 by USM vs. North Texas in 2004).

“We didn’t play good defensively the first four games, but since then we’ve played much better,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Today was our best defensive effort by far.”

Few enjoyed watching his unit shine more than defensive line coach Timothy Edwards.

“Look at that ‘3’ up there on the scoreboard,” Edwards yelled with a huge smile. “Ain‘t that so pretty?”

During Saturday’s postgame celebration, Edwards didn’t want to discuss the staff’s impeccable gameplan.

“Gameplans are about players, people,” he said. “Justin Hamilton and Christian Ringo are great players. We wanted to get a push with those three down guys and then handle the edge.

“They did a great job. We talk to them all the time about working hard and getting what you deserve. Today, (the defense) got what it deserved, especially the defensive line.”

Making the unit’s performance even more impressive, Nevada’s offense has the best of the field position virtually the entire game.

Until Corey Trim’s virtual game-clinching pass breakup on a fourth-and-10 from the UL 35, Nevada’s worst starting field position was better than the best start for UL’s offense. The best for UL incidently to that point was its own 23 after the opening kickoff.

Trim, by the way, finished with a team-high eight tackles, while T.J. Posey added six and Sean Thomas and Tracy Walker tied Molbert for third with four stops.

But that doesn‘t include Ringo with three stops and a sack, or Darzil Washington with two sacks.

Nevada was certainly impressed.

“The way they were playing us was to get those two big defensive tackles up the field and get those ends upfield and limit my ability to scramble,” Fajardo said.

“Those two defensive tackles were better than we thought they were,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “We had a hard time finding a rhythm.”

In fact, the only time Nevada scored was a 21-yard field goal on a drive that started at the UL 26 after an 8-yard Cajuns’ punt.

“It was basically like a turnover, the three points they did get,” Patt said. “That’s doing our job holding them to a field goal. That’s perfect to me.”

Cajun fans and coaches certainly weren’t in the mood to argue with that logic Saturday.