Cajuns need to fix penalty-riddled play heading into Sun Belt opener

Cody Junot
Special to the Advertiser

With the non-conference slate in the rear-view mirror, the Ragin’ Cajuns and coach Billy Napier are now locked in and focused on Sun Belt Conference play as UL looks to defend its Western Division crown.

The Sun Belt journey begins Saturday evening in Statesboro, Georgia, when the 3-1 Cajuns travel to Paulson Stadium to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles (1-2).

As his team begins preparing for the option offense of Georgia Southern, Napier and staff will also spend a good portion of the week focusing on cleaning up a number of mistakes that resulted in uncharacteristic penalties from Saturday’s 45-25 win at Ohio.

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“The first way you win is you don't beat yourself," Napier told reporters Monday afternoon, “and certainly lots of games are lost more than they're won.”

UL was flagged 16 times for 161 yards Saturday, a bevy of which were procedural in nature.

“We had some undisciplined penalties. We had two face mask penalties, we had a personal foul penalty, we had an illegal formation, an illegal motion,” Napier said. “All these penalties that have nothing to do with the opponent, and then there are some technical things, some fundamental things we need to improve on.”

UL Head Coach Billy Napier discusses stategy with his staff in the football game between UL and Mississippi State University at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 31, 2019.

Napier expects his team to use the lessons learned in Saturday’s contest to improve and grow.

“I think that we've got an opportunity to use all those things that maybe didn't quite go right Saturday. We've got to learn from those and not get too caught up with the outcome of the game and realize that we could play much better.”

Last season, Georgia Southern, led by second-year coach Chad Lunsford, bounced back in style from a 2017 two-win season. Lunsford inherited that team but engineered a 10-3 turnaround in 2018. Much of Georgia Southern’s success revolves around the option offense and quarterback Shai Werts.

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Werts’ availability for Saturday remains unknown after he’s missed the past two weeks, a home win against Maine, and a near-upset of Minnesota. In Werts’ absence, the Eagles have turned to freshman Justin Tomlin.

Regardless of who lines up at quarterback for Georgia Southern, the Cajuns will spend the week focusing on playing sound, disciplined, team football.

“I think they're very systematic in what they do, in my opinion,” Napier said of the Eagles and their option offense. “You’ve got to communicate well, play with great fundamentals, certainly try and create takeaways, attack the ball at every opportunity.”

Mitchell honored

After rushing for a team-high 143-yards and three scores in Saturday’s win at Ohio, junior running back Elijah Mitchell was named Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.

“Eli's had a great offseason. It's good to see him have the production that he had,” Napier said, crediting Mitchell’s offseason preparation. “First significant offseason that he's had, he was banged up a little bit throughout his career early. So, you can see the finishing speed, the physicality, the strength.”

The Erath native averaged an impressive 8.4 yards per carry against the Bobcats.

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Manac's status unknown

UL defensive end Chauncey Manac left Saturday’s game with an injury and did not return to action. When asked Monday if Manac practiced with the team Sunday, Napier declined to comment but noted that Manac’s “situation is still being evaluated.” The team releases an updated depth and injury report each Wednesday.

Manac, a junior in his second season with the Cajuns, leads the team with 2.5 sacks and is second on the club with 2.5 tackles for loss.

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