Louisiana opened their 2023 Sun Belt Conference schedule on the road against the Monarchs of Old Dominion on Saturday night. Despite gaining more yards and having possession of the football for more time than their opponent, the Cajuns came up just short on a fourth-down incomplete pass from the seven-yard line down 38-31.
With the loss, the Cajuns fell to 1-1 on the young season and have an early hill to climb in the conference after starting 0-1 in the SBC. Just like any loss, there are positives to take away from the performance, but there are also negatives as well.
Let’s look at a couple of each that really stood out to me from the contest:
No matter what the scoreboard showed Saturday night in Norfolk, the Cajuns never quit. Louisiana kept moving the ball down the field, making plays on defense and continued to give themselves a fighting chance until there was no time left. Every team, whether good or bad, will lose a game that people feel like they should win. But the mark of a special team is one that always fights to the finish, no matter the final result.
Louisiana’s defense was going to be a strength in 2023, with plenty of talent returning even though you lost major pieces at every level. Bralen Trahan, Eric Garror, Kam Pedescleaux, and Trey Amos all departed from the secondary with Zi’Yon Hill-Green, Andre Jones, and Kris Moncrief moving on in the front seven.
Now, there have been some early bright points, such as sophomore Jordan Lawson returning from injury to sitting at third in the country with 3.5 sacks through two games. You also have to be impressed with guys like Kailep Edwards and Keyon Martin, who have been spoken highly of since stepping foot into the facility, show you why they were so praised.
However, the overall performance of the defense Saturday night was poor.
“Defensive, it was certainly not our best night,” head coach Michael Desormeaux said in his weekly press conference. “Those guys did play hard and the effort is there when you turn on the tape. They got a huge fourth-down stop in the first quarter that should’ve turned into points but it didn’t, and then they got the stop in the fourth quarter to get our offense the ball back.”
Desormeaux went on further to talk about the big plays his defense allowed and the penalties committed, which he referred to as “embarrassing” because of how disciplined this Cajuns team typically is.
Another big positive through two games for this group is the amount of young talent that has stepped up at the skill positions and on defense. At running back, Elijah Davis saw action in the absence of Dre’Lyn Washington while Zylan Perry, who missed time last season with an injury, has flashed in the return game.
When you look at the wide receivers, you can’t help but be impressed with Robert Williams and Harvey Broussard. Williams, a sophomore from Humble, TX, is the leading receiver for the team so far and made an incredible catch to set up a touchdown for Louisiana late in the first half. Broussard, a true freshman from St. Martinville, caught his first career touchdown against ODU on a back-corner throw from Ben Wooldridge.
You mix this talent with the veteran presence of Peter LeBlanc, Jacob Bernard, Dalen Cambre, and Neal Johnson Jr, and the Cajuns have a strong receiving corps and a quarterback that is more than capable of getting them the football.
There were some decisions in Saturday’s game that left fans scratching their heads. When you look at the final drive, Louisiana had gone 90 yards down the field to put themselves inside the 10 with a minute to go. Looking back, I wonder what the coaching staff saw to throw four straight passes without handing it off. Louisiana averaged 4.3 yards per carry Saturday night against the Monarchs’ defense and you had a timeout to work with. Also, with it being such close quarters, why not have a second play pre-called so that as soon as the run play concludes, you quickly get set into the next play, whatever it may be? I’m not going to doubt a head coach, but the decisions were questionable.
Matt Miguez is the host of “The Miguez Mindset” podcast which is available on YouTube @espnsouthwestlouisiana and he is a contributor for ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles — Southwest Louisiana’s Sports Station.