Football: UL's Napier after Cajuns win No. 1 - 'It's a new ballgame' + photo gallery
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 2, 2018
Slant patterns. Completions to the tight end. Working the sidelines.
Who are these Ragin’ Cajuns?
It was a different-looking UL offense, indeed, compared to years gone by as the Cajuns opened the Billy Napier coaching era with a 49-17 win over SWAC-member Grambling on Saturday night at Cajuns.
The start, granted, was a bit inauspicious: Two incompletions, then quarterback Andre Nunez was sacked 10 yards back, as UL came out being perhaps a little too aggressive.
UL’s second drive wasn’t exactly perfect, either, as an illegal shift penalty negated a 29-yard Elijah Mitchell run to the 1.
But the Cajuns got the job done the old-fashioned way as running back Trey Ragas followed right way with a 31-yard run, then pounded it in himself from the 4 to cap an eight-play, 81-yard drive.
“I do think that maybe we were a little bit anxious early,” Napier said. “We did have some undisciplined play. A little bit sloppy at times in the first half, in my opinion.
“We need to improve, and that’s the message,” added Napier, whose Cajuns have a bye week before facing Mississippi State next. “We need to keep that chip on our shoulder, and really show up every day and work to improve.”
They kept rolling from there, flashing with plenty of success some pizazz from an offense that so much has been heard about — but little has been seen — since Napier was hired as head coach, and play-caller, after Mark Hudspeth’s firing last December.
The Cajuns’ second drive, capped by a 3-yard TD throw from Nunez to Ja’Marcus Bradley, was highlighted by a 35-yard Nunez-to-Bradley pass and an 18-yard Nunez run.
Backup quarterback Levi Lewis played as promised by Napier, making his season debut on UL’s fourth drive of the night and capping it with an 18-yard touchdown pass to juco-transfer Jamal Bell that helped to put the Cajuns up 21-3 late in the opening quarter.
But Nunez returned on UL’s ensuing drive to open the second quarter, and — two plays after a 47-yard Ragas run — ended it with an 8-yard TD strike to Bradley.
“Really, I think it's pregame jitters,” Nunez, who was 19-of-22 and threw for 184 yards, said of UL’s start. “Like Coach said, I think everybody was too ready to play, going against a different opponent for the first time in a while.
“But the second drive — we got it together. … The plan for us was to stay in the system, so it was pretty easy.”
Grambling quarterback Geremy Hickbottom — who set up a first-drive field goal with a 47-yard pass completion to Quintin Guice on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage — answered with a 7-yard TD, set up by his own 52-yard run earlier in the same 10-play drive.
Before the first half was done, though, with 11 seconds to go before the break, Nunez took care of matters himself, running left from 4-yards out for a touchdown that, with Pfau’s PAT, put the Cajuns up 35-10.
It was quite a display of offense as UL compiled 341 opening-half yards to Grambling’s 132, with 172 of them coming on the ground and 169 through the air.
Ragas had 11 carries for 100 yards at the break, and Nunez was 16-of-19 for 151 yards and the two TDs. Ragas finished with a career-high 142 rushing yards.
Receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley had six catches for 70 and his two TDs before halftime, and tight ends Matt Barnes and Johnny Lumpkin each had a catch in the opening half.
Lewis opened the second half on offense for UL engineering quite a drive, one that started at the 2 and ended 10 plays and 98 yards later with a 19-yard touchdown throw to Barnes.
“We had a plan going into the game in terms of the rotation,” Napier said of Lewis opening the second half, “and it just happened to be his possession to play.
“I told them, ‘Here’s the plan for the rotation; it has nothing to do with how you’re playing at the time. … Andre, you don’t need to be looking over your shoulder.’”
It was the third catch of the night and the first TD reception of his career for Barnes, a sixth-year senior who went into the game with just six career grabs.
Early on the drive, on third-and-9 from the 3, Lewis got UL out of a tough spot with a 13-yard completion to Barnes.
Last season, the Cajuns completed just nine passes all year to their tight ends.
Nunez returned for UL’s second drive of the second half, which was capped by a 2-yard Raymond Calais Jr. run.
Calais’ touchdown came one play after he ran 41 yards to the 2, only to trip and go down in the open field.
By then, the ink on Napier’s first win as UL’s head coach was quite dry.
“Man, I’ll tell you what: You don’t even have time to take a deep breath,” Napier, a former Arizona State and Clemson offensive coordinator who never before has been a head coach, said of notching No. 1. “When I get to the house tonight with (wife) Allie on the couch, I’ll probably have time to think about that.
“But I made a lot of mistakes today, you know. I’m gonna work my best to keep getting better at this deal. But I’ve got lots to learn, and lots I can get better at. It’s a new ballgame. It’s a whole new experience.
“My call sheet,” he added, “looks like something my girl Annie Jo drew all over, you know?”