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Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns survive a scare from Nicholls behind Kris Moncrief pick-six

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 11, 2021

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UL survived a scare from FCS Southland Conference member Nicholls, holding on to beat the Colonels 27-24 in front of announced 25,147 on Saturday night at Cajun Field.

With UL (1-1) still clinging to its 17-10 halftime lead in the last minute of the third quarter, inside linebacker Kris Moncrief used a 67-yard pick six off of Lindsey Scott Jr. to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a much-needed cushion.

Kenneth Almendares made it 27-10 with a 28-yard field goal with 9:29 remaining, and Scott responded with a 20-yard touchdown throw to K.J. Franklin with 5:03. Nicholls (0-2) got the ball back when Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis fumbled with 2:28 left, and Scott threw a 6-yard TD pass to Dai’Jean Dixon.

Devin Pauley, however, recovered the onside kick for UL with 32 seconds left.

UL opened with a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive in which Lewis went 5-of-5 for 75 yards, capping it with a 14-yard TD toss to TCU transfer John Stephens Jr.

Nicholls answered with a 21-yard touchdown throw from former LSU redshirt Scottto Dixon, set up by a 65-yard pass over the middle from Scott to Dixon, who finished with 14 catches for a career-high 198 yards.

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Almendares hit 46-yard field goal later in the first quarter.

UL extended its lead to 17-7 behind a 46-yard pass from Lewis to Alabama State transfer Michael Jefferson, capping a four-play, 99-yard drive with just less than six minutes to go in the first half.

Transfers make an impact

The two transfers, Stephens and Michael Jefferson, made quite an impact throughout the first half.

Stephens’ TD catch was set up by back-to-back completions of 27 and 11 from Lewis to Jefferson.

The two had solid preseason camps and, if the drive is any indicator both could be a big part of the Cajun passing game going forward.

Cajun offense has work to do

Two games into the season, however, the UL offense still has issues to iron out.

Through three quarters Saturday, Nicholls was outgaining the Cajuns 355 to 277 in total yards.

At one point in the third, UL went for it on fourth-and-1 from its 32 and running back Chris Smith was thrown for a loss – reflective of the Cajuns’ frustrations after Nicholls some effective halftime adjustments.

Quibodeaux makes a difference

With starting inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner injured and out with an ankle sprain sustained one week earlier in a season-opening loss at Texas, usual backup Jourdan Quibodeaux got the start at the Will.

The Acadiana High product opened next to Mike starter Lorenzo McCaskill over usual Mike backup Moncrief, who was listed as the No. 1 Will on UL’s pregame depth chart.

Quibodeaux appeared to not miss a beat, making five total tackles including three solo stops in the first half alone.

Deep UL secondary needs fine-tuning

The Cajuns bill their safeties as deep and essentially interchangeable, with starters often based on who had the best practice week.

Saturday’s game was reflective of that as Percy Butler got the start at one safety spot over last week’s starter, Kam Pedescleaux, and Ja’Len Johnson started at nickel over last week’s starter, Brandon Bishop.

The depth could pay benefits down the road, but the UL secondary clearly still needs fine-tuning as Scott went 14-of-20 for 200 yards before halftime. He had 290 passing yards and 109 rushing yards with five minutes still to go, and Nicholls with 511 of total offense. Scott finished with 359 pass yards.