UL coach Napier: 'I think we're made of the right stuff'
MOBILE, Ala. – They’re 8-2.
That’s what matters most to UL coach Billy Napier.
What happened, and how it looked, ultimately is trumped by the bottom line: the Ragin’ Cajuns beat South Alabama 37-27 on Saturday night here, and that’s all one needs to know.
And who cares, Napier also suggested, if the Jaguars came into the day having lost seven straight.
“I think we felt like they were better than a (1-8, now 1-9) football team watching the film … and that was pretty obvious out there today,” Napier said.
“They’ve got some talent, and certainly they got their players to play hard. They played physical. And they created some issues for us throughout the day.
“But sometimes when you go through some difficult things like that, I think that really tells you a lot about our team,” he added. “I thought our guys settled down. We responded. We made plays at critical times.”
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The tackling wasn’t pretty as a UL defense that had been allowing just 17.10 points per game gave up 27.
The Cajuns yielded a whopping 352 rushing yards, and 468 in all.
They allowed two South Alabama running backs 100-yard games, Tra Minter with 137 on 22 carries and one touchdown and Carlos Davis with 122 on 10 and another TD.
So it was far from perfect for a team coming off a blowout win at Coastal Carolina, and Cajun players know it.
Cornerback Eric Garror called it “a wakeup call … that showed that anybody can play with anybody.”
“We’ve got clean up mistakes,” Garror said. “We had a lot of mistakes in the fourth quarter that shouldn’t happen.”
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But the Cajuns did a lot right too to cover for the defensive missteps.
UL running back Elijah Mitchell rushed 17 times for 117 yards, 13 of them coming on a key fourth-down conversion in the fourth quarter, and one touchdown.
Tight ends Neal Johnson and Hunter Bergeron both caught second-quarter touchdown throws from Levi Lewis.
And UL’s special teams answered the bell.
Garror returned a punt 72 yards to the 4-yard line, which Napier called “huge.” Raymond Calais Jr. returned a kickoff 60 yards. Rhys Byrns had one of his punts downed a the 3 in the final two minutes. And Stevie Artigue hit three short fields, making him UL’s career leader in made field goals.
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“We had to settle for three field goals down there inside the 10, so we’ve got to do a better job there,” Napier said. “And certainly (we) didn’t tackle as well as we have in the past; didn’t necessarily fit the runs as well. … Didn’t quite anchor at the point of attack in the middle of the defense like we had been.”
But, Napier also said, “late third, early fourth, we got stops, we made plays.”
They got it done, in other words, winning their fourth in a row, improving to 5-1 in Sun Belt Conference play and setting themselves up to win the SBC West Division for a second straight year with a win over Troy on Saturday at Cajun Field.
“Our kids, I don’t know that we ever panicked,” Napier said. “It was just kind of like, ‘Alright, here we go; we’ve got to go make a few plays and get some stops,’ and we did that.”
So lesson learned.
“Stuff like this happens, but, like Coach Napier said, ‘We just have to stay together,’ and that’s what we did,” Mitchell said.
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That’s what matters more to Napier than beating a 1-9 team by only 10.
“Hey, I’m sorry that we didn’t win by three touchdowns,” he said. “I know everybody expected us (to).
“But this is a very capable (team). Did you guys watch the game?” added Napier, whose Cajuns actually were favored by around four TDs. “They’ve got big, fast athletes out there, okay? And they got their act together, and they played good football today.”
That in mind, Napier was not about to buy the notion that getting tested Saturday will help the Cajuns lock in even more before they face Troy.
“I thought we were ready to play today,” he said.
“We forget sometimes that we’ve had some success, sure, but we still are very much in a work in progress here and have got some players out there playing.
“So, it is what it is. We went out on the road, got a win, against a big, fast, athletic team that I thought was very capable going into the game,” Napier added. “They proved that tonight, but our team responded at critical moments, and I think we’re made of the right stuff.”