Football: Napier draws on lessons from Nick Saban after emotional UL loss to Coastal Carolina
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 15, 2020
Even after losing one the way the Ragin’ Cajuns did Wednesday night, falling 30-27 to Coastal Carolina after a 40-yard field goal by Massimo Biscardi in the final few seconds, UL coach Billy Napier was more about looking ahead to what still could be than dwelling on what just was.
It couldn’t have been easy.
UL had been riding high at 3-0, after all, ranked No. 21 in both the Amway Coaches Poll and the Associated Press Top 25.
But that’s what Napier learned to do during his days as an assistant to Nick Saban at Alabama, where he was receivers coach from 2013-17.
“Sometimes it takes something like this to really right the ship,” Napier said.
“I just talked (to his team) about (how) the years at ’Bama that we won the national championship we always got beat, you know, at some point. The first half of the season you lose a game and that really caused us to make the necessary adjustments.
“I think a tight one like this that was emotional, and certainly the guys competed their hearts out – when we watch the tape, I think this is going to help us going forward,” Napier added. “I think that’s the whole key here, is that we learn and make the necessary adjustments.”
And there is plenty to learn from.
Quarterback Levi Lewis threw for 173 yards and a touchdown, and reeled off a 51-yard scramble late, but he had a costly interception too.
A false start on the offensive line set the Cajuns’ back on their final full drive, causing them to fail to convert on third down and punt.
Not having played since a Sept. 26 win over Georgia Southern, tackling also seemed sloppy and UL allowed Coastal Carolina to go 9 for 15 on third-down conversions.
“I think some of the things we’ve been talking about in terms of playing a little bit better in all three phases showed up,” Napier said, “and eventually caught up with us.”
The Chanticleers won the time of possession battle by more than 16 minutes, 38:11 to 21:49.
Coastal Carolina controlled the ball for 21:59 in the second half alone, including a drive to open the second half that lasted more than eight minutes and one at the end – setting up Biscardi’s field goal – that took up 5:26 of the final 5:30.
“The true test is when things aren’t going your way – how are you going to respond?” Napier said.
Time will tell a lot, much like the game clock did, as UL is off until playing Oct. 23 at Alabama-Birmingham.
In the immediate after of Wednesday’s loss, though, all the Cajuns – who had lofty expectations for 2020 after going 11-3 in 2019 – could think about was opportunity squandered.
Like staying perfect. Like staying nationally ranked.
“Any loss is difficult to take,” said starting offensive guard Ken Marks, a sixth-year senior who missed most of last season following knee surgery. “But you have to take the losses and learn – take them as lessons, and learn from ’em.
“Obviously we wanted to go undefeated, we want to win every game. But we got defeated, so we just go and work and get ready for UAB.”
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That was precisely the message from Napier, also a former offensive coordinator at Clemson and Arizona State who’s been there, done that.
He’s now trying to get his Cajuns to think not just about what went wrong but also the fact they can still can get to the Sun Belt championship game, which they went to and lost – both times at Appalachian State – each of the two seasons under his command.
“Whether that’s urgency at practice, the walk-through, whether that’s a little extra film study, a little extra sleep, extra time in the training room,” he said, “you’ve got to evaluate everything you do.
“And every person in the entire organization – players, staff – has to take a good look in the mirror and say, ‘Okay, What can I do to improve my role on the team?’ ”
Sound like someone familiar?
It’s not by coincidence if the message seems Saban-esque.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,” Napier said.
“We’ve got to make sure we take this and we channel it and all of these emotions we’re feeling.”
So perhaps Napier will be pleased that, if nothing else, his postgame message seemed to be not just delivered and but also heard.
“Taking a loss always is hard,” Cajuns nickel back Ja’Len Johnson said, “but … tomorrow we’ll work and try to get better.”