Halftime adjustments helped UL overcome sleepy start, shaky play-calling

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

UL coach Billy Napier was asked last week about morning kickoffs, something the Ragin’ Cajuns now have had four times this season, including twice at home.

He’s getting to like them, joked Napier, who laughed about how he could be home with something on the grill by late in the afternoon.

But there can be a downside to it, something Napier and the Cajuns were reminded of Saturday.

“Today we were sleep-walking out there early on,” Napier said after UL faced Arkansas State at Cajun Field. “I think the 11 o’clock kick – we didn’t have the right frame of mind. We had to wake them up.”

Down 6-0 at halftime, the Cajuns rolled out of the rack and beat the Red Wolves 27-20.

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With the win UL (6-1, 4-1 Sun Belt) moved up from fourth to second among others receiving votes in the Amway Coaches Poll.

So no harm done Saturday for the sleepyheads.

But the slow starts have become something of a theme for the Cajuns in 2020, cause for concern heading into a stretch with three more Sun Belt opponents – South Alabama on Saturday at Cajun Field, at UL Monroe on Nov. 28 and at Appalachian State on Dec. 4 – among UL’s final four regular-season games.

Fortunately for Napier, he’s backed by a coaching staff that’s proven proficient at on-the-fly change.  

“We’re fully aware of maybe why things aren’t working and why they should work, what we need to do to fix it,” he said.

“I thought offensively the staff did a really good of making adjustments at halftime. But in general we have a special group in there that doesn’t have any quit at all.”

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Twice this season, the Cajuns have gone into the break tied.

They split those two, beating Georgia Southern behind Nate Snyder’s 53-yard field goal as time expired but falling 30-27 to still-undefeated Coastal Carolina after Massimo Biscardi’s field goal in the final few seconds.

UL has rallied, though, each of the four times this year it has trailed at halftime: A season-opening upset victory at Iowa State, an overtime win at Georgia State, a four-point victory at UAB and Saturday’s Homecoming win.

“It’s just become a part of who we are,” Napier said.

“I certainly would like to play better in the first half on offense, but outside of that (Saturday) it was an impressive win.”

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Receiver Peter LeBlanc pulls in one of his two catches in UL's 27-20 Homecoming win over Arkansas State on Saturday at Cajun Field.

Napier did say, however, that there’s “no doubt” he’d prefer better starts.

“We’ve been reviewing all that from a self-scouting and analytics standpoint,” he said.

Early on Saturday, UL’s offense seemed sluggish. Predictable. Inconsistent. Even seemingly uninspired at times.

Some of that, Napier suggested, could be attributed to Arkansas State’s unexpected first-half defensive scheme.

“They pressured a little bit more and they played more man coverage than we had seen,” Napier said.

Arkansas State also sold out to defend the Cajuns’ frequently effective ground game.

UL responded by spreading out its receivers three wide.

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“And, you know, (quarterback) Levi (Lewis) really stepped up and made some good throws,” Napier said.

One was a 29-yard completion over the middle to Peter LeBlanc that set up UL’s first touchdown Saturday, a 33-yard Lewis run off a draw in the first couple minutes of the third quarter.

The two plays combined to loosened up the Arkansas State defense later in the second half.

Napier credited offensive analyst Ryan O’Hara, who works with Cajun quarterbacks, for the throw to LeBlanc: “He designed that play during the week and did a nice job of catching onto a tendency from a certain formation.”

Napier also pointed to himself, however, for some of what troubled UL’s slow-to-start offense.

“From a play-calling standpoint, I could have been a little bit better job – specifically in the fringe and red zone and in the gold zone today was not one of our better days,” he said. “I need to help the players, and some of those possessions are on me.

“We didn’t sequence the plays together, and I think the decision-making could be better given the situation at times.

“So, that’s coaching – and certainly we can coach better,” Napier said. “But I do think the staff did a really good job of doing just that (at halftime). I thought we got ’em going.”

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