How Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns football can use 'the deep shot' to improve offense

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Ragin’ Cajuns offense averaged 421.5 yards per game, which ranked fifth best in the Sun Belt Conference last season. Their pass offense produced 208.5 yards per game, seventh best in the league.

UL mostly got away with it, finishing 10-1.

Still, the Cajuns know something must change in 2021 – and they’re not shy about saying it.

“I think one big step we can all make here is completing the deep shot,” said receivers coach Tim Leger, who along with tight ends coach Michael Desormeaux was named co-offensive coordinator after offensive line coach Rob Sale left to join the New York Giants’ staff.

Fortifying that that in the arsenal is a major focus this offseason for the Cajuns, whose scrimmage Thursday will mark their eighth of 15 practices in March and April.

After taking a week off for spring break, they’ll resume work April 10 and hold their spring game April 22.

“We’ve got to hit the deep ball,” said freshman Kyren Lacy, UL’s leading receiver in 2021.

“That’s what all of our guys have been working on with the quarterbacks is the deep balls.”

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UL took some shots

The Cajuns took their share of shots last year.

Connecting was the problem.

Quarterback Levi Lewis did hook up with Peter LeBlanc for a 78-yard touchdown in a season-opening win at Iowa State. LeBlanc also had a 47-yard grab against Texas-Arlington in the First Responder Bowl.

Ragin' Cajuns Peter LeBlanc heads for the end zone after pulling in a pass from Levi Lewis that sailed 50-plus yards through the air in a win at Iowa State last season.

In all, UL completed 14 passes that went for more than 30 yards.

But the Cajuns had only seven completions for more than 40, and a few of those were more yards-after-contact receptions than true bombs like Lewis’ in-stride completion to LeBlanc against the Cyclones that sailed 50-plus yards through the air and his 46-yard heave to Calif Gossett in the end zone against Texas State.

So Lewis and the Cajuns certainly are capable. Now it’s a matter of doing it more often.

Critical to improving, Leger suggested, will be getting safeties to bite on run plays from an offensive losing its top two rushers, NFL Draft prospects Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas.

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“Safeties are gonna be first to fit some of these runs,” said Leger, a Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league baseball player before playing quarterback at McNeese in the mid-to-late 1990s.

“We’ve got to be able to complete the deep ball, right? Not just scare them with a long foul ball. … The foul ball home run? At the end of the day everybody stands up, and there’s a big oooh and ahhh.”

But no runs – or, in football parlance, points – go up on the board.

“We hit too many foul balls out there with deep balls,” Leger said.

 “We’ve got to start hitting some homers here. I think that’s a point of emphasis for us going forward, and I think we’ll get better at that as we go through. But it all starts with being physical in the run game and forcing those guys to fit, right?”

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All about work

The Cajuns did, however, have a physical ground game led by Mitchell and Ragas last season.

So there must be more behind last year’s lack of success than that.

With the Cajun offense relying heavily on three freshmen – Lacy, Dontae Fleming and Errol Rogers Jr. – because of preseason injuries to four more experienced receivers in 2020, and with usual offseason work derailed by COVID-19, Lewis feels the Cajuns simply didn’t put in enough hours working on perfecting long ball timing.

Quarterback Levi Lewis passing against Coastal Carolina last season at Cajun Field.

Too much time was spent during playing catchup because of what was lost last spring, when UL’s final 12 practices were canceled due to the pandemic, and in the summer, when usual workout plans had to be modified.

“For the most part,” Lewis said, “I feel like I could have taken more responsibility on getting together with guys more.

“We could have stayed more after practice, gotten extra work in. It suffered a lot because of what we worked on and the things we didn’t work on.”

It was evident.

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“We as coaches, and our players as well, they saw what we missed last year – missed in spring, and missed in our normal summer activities, (the) way we do them,” Desormeaux said. “We were really slow to start on offense last year, and that’s something that I think kind of burned within us.”

Now, the Cajuns are toiling to ensure they can burn opposing defenses by going deep, and connecting, more often in 2021.

Key to completing the task, according to Lewis, is having “guys thinking how I’m thinking, make sure we’re on the same page on things.”

“We have to work harder, just work more after practice, put in extra work,” Lewis said. “I think that’s what it’s gonna take.”