UL upset played out just like Smith's NCAA video game
A long, long time ago, a win like UL’s upset one over No. 25 Iowa State on Saturday was a thing of make-believe.
Especially for a gamer like Chris Smith.
Now a redshirt sophomore running back and kicker returner for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Smith – who brought back a kick 95 yards for a second-quarter touchdown – remembers being a little guy playing “NCAA Football” back home in Louisville, Mississippi.
Guess which sort of team he picked?
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“Well, see, I’ve been dreaming about this since I was young – like, 7 years old,” Smith, when asked what a win like Saturday’s meant to the UL program, said via a Zoom video conference from Ames, Iowa.
“Back when ‘NCAA’ was out, I played (as) a Group of Five team. I would remake the schedule; put all Top 25 teams on there, and I’d just beat ’em.”
It hasn’t been nearly so simple for the Cajuns, who next visit Georgia State for an ESPN2-televised Sun Belt Conference opener Saturday morning in Atlanta.
Prior to Saturday, UL, which is now nationally ranked itself at No. 21 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 19 in the AP writers Top 25, had never toppled a nationally ranked opponent on the road.
So getting the first really did mean something special for Cajuns like Smith.
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“Just for us to come out here and beat ’em,” Smith said, “it shows them that, ‘We’re here; we’re ready to play.’ ”
Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis, meanwhile, claimed to not know anything about UL’s history against Top 25 opponents away from Cajun Field.
“No sir. No sir,” he said when asked on the same Zoom call. “Just came in it, you know, trying to win the game.”
And, oh, by the way, Lewis wondered aloud, “What is it?”
Since you asked …
The Cajuns had been 0-27 all-time on the road against nationally ranked teams.
And now they’re 1-27.
“Thanks to God,” said Lewis, who threw for 154 yards including a 78-yard touchdown on a deep ball to Peter LeBlanc late in the third quarter. “Really.”
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With the win, moreover, UL improved to 2-28 all-time against ranked opponents – with its last, and only other, such victory coming in 1996 at home against then-No. 25 Texas A&M.
Along the way, there have been some really ugly ones – and not just against nationally ranked opponents, but also Power 5 opponents like the Big 12’s Cyclones are.
Who can forget UL’s 56-14 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama in 2018, Billy Napier’s first season as coach of the Cajuns?
There have been some oh-so-close calls.
Remember that botched 27-20 loss at No. 7 Florida in 2012, anyone?
There have been some coulda-woulda-shoulda’s, like – it shouldn’t be hard to recall – last season’s 38-28 defeat at the hands of unranked Mississippi State at the Superdome in New Orleans.
But with their win at Iowa State, the Cajuns ended a streak of 18 straight losses to opponents from what are now known as Power 5 conferences – including 0-10 in the seven-season Mark Hudspeth coaching, and 0-3 before Saturday under Napier.
More:UL heads into opener at Iowa State with lots to overcome
Related:UL Ragin' Cajuns vs. Iowa State video highlights
SUN BELT SURPRISE
Prior to Saturday, in fact, UL had not knocked off a Power 5 since Kansas State in 2009.
Then everything changed on one glorious-for-the-Cajuns day in Ames.
Not to Napier, whose Cajuns went 11-3 last season with a LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio) and only two losses to Appalachian State to go with the one to Mississippi State.
“You know, we’ve got a belief in our process,” Napier said when asked on a Zoom call about the magnitude of the win. “We’ve got a lot of belief that University of Louisiana should always have a very competitive team.”
The Cajuns have been given the resources, Napier said, “to really run, basically, a Power 5 operation.”
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“We’re fortunate that we’ve got the necessary things from our administration,” he said. “You know, they’ve decided they want to have an exceptional Group of Five football program, and gave us the money to go hire the people.
“This,” Napier added, “is what we expected to happen.”
So now Napier has his first signature win as a head coach, and it came on the same day another Sun Belt team, Arkansas State, beat another Big 12 team, Kansas State.
It was a good start for a league that ended with 2019 with its champ, Appalachian State, nationally ranked itself.
Yet Napier, not having seen the Arkansas State 35-31 score himself, almost couldn’t believe the league had a two-knockout day.
“You can’t underestimate a Sun Belt Conference team anymore, and that’s becoming a normal thing,” he said. “You know, you put a Sun Belt team on the schedule, you better watch out.
“So, I’m extremely excited for our league and certainly those coaches and their team if that is true.”
Related:Sun Belt Conference football team-by-team breakdown
It was true. No dream.
Cajun players didn’t doubt it for a second. And before Saturday was done another SBC team, Coastal Carolina, had beaten Kansas 38-23, making the Sun Belt 3-0 on the day against teams from the Big 12.
“There’s something about those Sun Belt teams, you know?” QB Lewis said. “Some people take us lightly, but we’re just starting to show this conference is changing.”
“It just shows you anybody can play anybody, really,” added UL cornerback Eric Garror, who returned a punt 83 yards for a critical touchdown that helped make it 24-14 Cajuns early in the fourth quarter. “It’s just what you do. We just go out there and play football, really. It don’t matter the talent, the height, the weight, all that. You just go out there and play football, and just do what your coaches taught you to do.”
Or the joystick allows.
Much like on Smith’s NCAA game.
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