No-fun defense cost the Cajuns early, but that's changing

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

Sure, there are the Xs and Os. The technical things. The things untrained eyes might not notice.

Linebacker T.J. Posey (30) and cornerback Simeon Thomas (8), UL's leading tackler against Texas State last Thursday, are helping to lead the revived UL offense.

But in terms to which most commoners can relate, the difference in the UL defense between the first four games of the 2017 season and the most-recent two boils down to human feelings.

A group not having enough fun. One not showing enough effort. One perhaps lacking the desire to get it done.

Ask enough Ragin’ Cajuns, and it seems those are the realities for a defense that yielded 53.8 points per game over those first four games — worst in the nation — but just 10.2 in these past two, a 21-16 victory at Idaho followed by last Thursday night’s 24-7 win over Texas State.  

“We (saw) how we could play when we have fun, communicate,” senior Mike linebacker T.J. Posey said about the Idaho game between the two wins. “That was our big thing. We weren’t having fun the earlier part of the season.”

How could they after barely beating FCS Southeastern Louisiana 51-48, then losing 66-42 at Tulsa, 45-21 at Texas A&M and — capping a three-game losing streak — 56-50 in double-overtime to UL Monroe?

But after a bye week and a 4,800-plus-mile trip to Idaho, Posey suggested, a defense that calls itself “The Dark Side” finally saw the light.

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Reading between the lines, coaching — and a few key adjustments here and there — indeed might have had something to do with it too.

“Everybody was just going out there, having fun, and everybody knowing what they had to do responsibility-wise — it just made it fun, and (we) just were, ‘Hey, Ragin’ Cajun football,’” Posey said.

The biggest personnel change, as has been well-chronicled, was the move of Joe Dillon from Will inside linebacker back to his original position of Buck defensive end.

The biggest coaching change was the in-season addition to the staff of “analyst” James Willis, UL’s former defensive coordinator.

More:Dillon moves again in ailing Cajuns defense

Column:UL's Willis shouldn't worry about feelings

And the biggest scheme change — beyond little things like how they lined up and how much they did or did not twist, swim, spin, rip, bull rush and speed rush — was how the Cajuns let their front four free.

“We were sitting back a little bit at the beginning, but now we’re just more of (an) attack mentality,” senior defensive end Trev Miller.


That’s the word head coach Mark Hudspeth threw around the most between the Idaho and Texas State games, and it was the sentiment he shared again after UL — which visits Arkansas State on Thursday night — beat the Bobcats to win its second straight and improve to 3-3.

More:Ragin' Cajun defense playing in 'attack mode'

“We felt like coming into the season that the defensive line was gonna be a strength of the team,” Hudspeth said, “but I just think we sort of had our handcuffs on them earlier in the year and now I feel like our staff has sort of taken the handcuff off those guys and they’re being way more productive.”

It certainly showed against Texas State on Thursday, when the Cajuns had a season-high six sacks including 2.0 by Taboris Lee and Chaiziere Malbrue and 1.0 each by Dillon and Miller.

In that same game, UL also got an early 4th-and-1 stop when nose tackle Lee plugged up the inside and Posey made the tackle behind the line, a sack and fumble recovery by Malbrue, a recovery by Darmar’ren Mitchell off a fumble forced by Bennie Higgins and a key interception at the goal line by Tracy Walker with the Cajuns clinging to a 14-0 lead late in the first half.

“The quarterback definitely was staring his receiver down,” Walker said of the momentum-shifting pick, “and I basically I just baited him.

“My d-line got pressure, so he forced a bad throw and I just capitalized on it.”

That work by the defensive line, Walker suggested, really was a difference-maker.

“We definitely just made a few changes on how our stunts were,” he said, “and basically just kind of made a few rearrangements at the d-line.

“We’re putting them in better positions to make plays, so I feel like that’s been a major key factor.”

More:Go figure, UL's defense delivers win

Mix things up on the back end with a little more man coverage, and it all helps.

Perhaps the bigger key, though, has been the effort involved — effort that arguably was insufficient during that 1-3 start.

“I feel like we could have played harder in some of the games,” Miller said before the Texas State game. “We’re just trying to play harder and bring more energy (now).”

That’s telling.

And while there’s no real answer as to why it wasn’t there earlier, even Hudspeth gave a nod to the issue of effort.

“I think we’re playing harder, I think we’re playing smarter, I think we’re mixing up our calls,” he said after Thursday’s win. “I think it’s a little bit of everything.”

Beyond effort, or maybe tied to it, is the matter of desire.

“The team just wanted it more, honestly,” Will insider linebacker Jacques Boudreaux said after the victory at Idaho.

“You know, we came in with a mentality as a defense of just, ‘We’ve got to stop these guys; we’re not gonna allow anything big, no big plays like we have in the past;’ and a different mentality overall, together as a football program.”

Related:Cajun 'head-hunter' Boudreaux got start on special teams

Whether that’s enough to deal with an Arkansas State offense averaging a Sun Belt-best 39.8 points per game remain to be seen.

But at least it’s a start, and the biggest spark behind it, according to Posey, was getting coached “hard” during the two weeks that followed the three-game losing streak.

That, and a little laissez les bons temps rouler.

That’s right: The Cajuns finally started letting the good times roll.

“Everybody was just dead,” Posey said, “and were just out there just playing non-chalant.

“Us playing, having fun, and everybody basically knowing what they had to do, watching film — it makes the game easier.

“When you can fly around and run to the ball,” Posey added, “it’s fun.”