UL Ragin' Cajuns 27, Arkansas State Red Wolves 20: What we learned

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Quarterback Levi Lewis got a struggling UL offense going in the second half and a 2-yard touchdown run by Elijah Mitchell with 1 minute and 13 seconds left gave the Ragin’ Cajuns a 27-20 Homecoming win over Arkansas State on Saturday at Cajun Field.

A Mekhi Garner interception on fourth down with 21 seconds left finished it as Arkansas State's final four plays ended with incomplete passes.

Lewis opened with a 33-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown early in the third quarter, capping a quick, four-play drive, and followed on the ensuing UL possession with a handoff flip to freshman receiver Dontae Fleming scored a 52-yard TD pass.

Levi Lewis passes Saturday against Arkansas State.

Arkansas State answered with a 4-yard Jamal Jones TD run, then went for 2 and the tie, but safety Percy Butler picked off Layne Hatcher, leaving it 14-12 Cajuns. An ensuing 35-yard yard field by Kenneth Almendares extended the lead for UL (6-1, 4-1 Sun Belt). Almendares added a 43-yarder with 3:59 left.

The Red Wolves tied it with a 47-yard pass from Hatcher to Brandon Bowling followed by a 2-point conversion throw to Jonathan Adams with 2:24 left.

Arkansas State (3-5, 1-4) led 6-0 at halftime behind two Blake Grupe field goals. UL had 108 yards in the first half to 182 for A-State.

Here's what was learned ...

All it takes is one play

Sometimes all takes is one play to spark an offense.

In the case of UL on Saturday, it was a 29-yard Lewis pass over the middle to Peter LeBlanc on the first drive of the third quarter that seemed to ignite a Cajuns unit that sputtered throughout the opening half but scored 27 in the second.

“We executed it perfect,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “I thought Peter ran a very clean route; very precise. ... It was a big play there coming out of half.”   

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Going for it doesn't always pay

It often is commendable to be gutsy and trust that your offense can pick up a few short yards.

But going for it doesn’t always pay, and the Cajuns have been reminded of that the hard way this season.

Before Saturday UL was 3-of-8 on fourth-down conversion attempts. The Cajuns started 1-for-4 against the Red Wolves, including 1-for-3 in the opening half. They even went for it on 4th-and-5 at the A-State 24 on their second drive of the second half, and failed to convert, as a pass from a scrambling Lewis to running back Chris Smith fell incomplete.

One reason the Cajuns might be so tempted: inconsistent field goal kicking. Nate Snyder missed a 30-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter.

More:A look at Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football kicker Nate Snyder

The UL Ragin Cajuns took on the Arkansas State Wolves for their 2020 Homecoming Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020

Slow starts hurt

UL had just 13 yards (9 rushing, 4 passing) and no first downs in Saturday’s opening quarter, a slow start that set a sluggish first-half tone for the Cajuns.

Arkansas State controlled the ball for 11:30 to just 3:30 for UL in the first quarter and led 3-0 after Grupe’s first short field goal attempt struck the right post but his second was good was 24 yards.

After a 35-yarder by Grupe made it 6-0, this play typified things in the opening half for UL: Facing 4th-and-goal from the 1 with 26 seconds before the break, Napier called for a reverse and Fleming was thrown for a 5-yard loss.

UL offensive line settled

The Ragin’ Cajuns seem to have settled their offensive line situation, as redshirt junior Carlos Rubio got a second straight start at left tackle.

Rubio began the season as a reserve, then started three consecutive games at right tackle – initially because the usual starter there, Max Mitchell, was out for COVID-19 related reasons.

When he returned, Mitchell started two games at left tackle over early season starter Zach Robertson, who had been dealing with an undisclosed injury. And when Mitchell moved back to the right side Rubio got the call over Robertson, a graduate transfer who is a former starter at Arizona State.

UL’s other o-line starters have been the same all season: sixth-year senior Ken Marks, who missed most of last season with a knee injury at left guard; returning starter Shane Vallot at center; and Torrence, who spent last season starting in Marks’ spot at left guard, at right guard.

More Ragin' Cajuns news:

UL plays host to Arkansas State for Homecoming on Saturday.