Thursday night was not a pretty sight at Cajun Field.
The Louisiana Ragin Cajuns dropped an overtime game to a 2-7 Southern Miss 34-31 in a contest where they were favored by 10 points. It was the second straight week that Louisiana has lost a game against a team with a non-winning record that they were favored against.
The contest was riddled with poor officiating, bad procedure penalties, injuries, and more as the Ragin’ Cajuns found themselves behind the Golden Eagles on different occasions but took the lead back with less than six minutes remaining. However, USM scored with 90 seconds left to tie the game and Louisiana shot themselves in the foot and prevented a game-winning drive.
In overtime, more bad penalties put Louisiana behind the sticks and forced them to settle for a field goal. Then on the Eagles’ possession, a pass interference penalty put USM inside the ten-yard line and Frank Gore Jr. was able to find the endzone to give Will Hall’s team their third victory of the season.
Despite the issues found within the game offensively, the major storyline that has been brewing for a few weeks now: what has happened to the Cajuns’ defense?
Including the Texas State victory on October 7, Louisiana has averaged 437.4 total yards allowed per game, including 426 to Arkansas State and 390 to Southern Miss on Thursday night. Even with all the yards given up, there’s an even bigger problem: this team has forgotten how to tackle.
Over the last several weeks, the Cajuns’ defense has had a rash of missed tackles, which has allowed opposing running backs to rush for over 100 yards in three of the last five games, while the other two games had rushing performances of 96 and 88 yards.
“It’s hard to put your finger on,” Ragin’ Cajuns coach Michael Desormeaux said in his postgame press conference. “This week, you really don’t get to a solid thud practice as much on a short week, but they had to go through the same thing, so it is what it is. We do a tackling circuit every week in practice like we do all year. We just have to do a better job. Part of it I think is the running back (Gore) is pretty good, but we had opportunities to tackle some of these other guys in the backfield and the opportunities to get some sacks as well. We have to get them on the ground and finish and do some of those things.”
“We got to go back and look at it on a lot of the fundamentals,” Desormeaux continued. “You have to wrap up before you hook before you and make sure you get it wrapped up so you can get them down and down. We just got to practice this week we’ll get back to our normal thud practices and make sure we’re stopping the runner and doing a better job of that.”
From a personal standpoint, something feels off within this football program after the last couple of games. I can’t put a finger on what it could be, but this team desperately needs something positive to turn things around. Between injuries and dropping games against teams that you were a heavy favorite against, sitting at 5-5 with two games to go in the regular season is a major disappointment from what was being discussed in the preseason.
Now, there’s a reason that preseason projections and speculation are exactly that, but there were plenty of variables coming into 2023 that would’ve led most people to believe that this team would be better than 5-5 at this point.
With two games remaining, one on the road at SBC West division leader Troy and then the finale at home against ULM, Louisiana still has the opportunity to become bowl-eligible for the sixth straight season, but now the road has gotten quite a bit harder. The Cajuns will undoubtedly be the underdog in central Alabama and then a rivalry game with an in-state foe that beat you last season.
“When we came back and played the style of football that we want to play, which is with toughness and still come up a bit short,” Desormeaux said. “You have to just move on. We’re going to go back and look at the tape and keep working at it. We have two more regular season games coming up and we’re going to play our asses off in both of those games. That’s what we’re going to do.”
“Now’s the time when everybody on the outside starts trying to pick you apart and start trying to pull you apart a little bit,” Desormeaux continued. “All that really matters, though, is what our locker room believes and we’ve got a bunch of guys in there that are hurting right now because they believe in each other. They believe that we’re gonna get this thing the way we want it and we will. Tonight’s tough, ending up on the wrong end of it, but we will work our asses off and we’re gonna get this thing right where we want it. We got the right type of kids, and we got the guys in our building to go forward and go do it and we will.”
Matt Miguez is the host of the Miguez Mindset Podcast on ESPN Southwest Louisiana’s YouTube page. He is also a digital contributor for ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles.