Cajuns are Good, but Must be Better – From the Bird’s Nest
When it comes to the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, I try to stay analytical. First of all, that's my job. And, secondly, it keeps things in perspective.
After five games, I can say this:
The Cajuns are a good football team.
There is so much to like about this Louisiana squad. Billy Napier has come in with a plan for the program. That's right...the program. He's building it and building it to last.
So far, the results have been solid. Four wins in a row have put the Cajuns in pretty solid position for their second straight bowl game and seventh in the last nine years.
But the Cajuns have bigger fish to fry. And, for that, they must get better.
Offensively, there's so much to like about this Cajuns' team. After their 77-6 win over Texas Southern there was talk of over-inflated statistics and, to an extent, that criticism was legitimate. But in the last two weeks the Cajuns have gone on the road and beaten two pretty good football teams and they've done it with a ground game no one has been able to stop. Or, for that matter, even slow down for any length of time. The Cajuns' offensive line might be as good as they've ever had. And, quarterback Levi Lewis continues to make positive strides and Saturday's performance against Georgia Southern was his best of the season. Lewis showed he can throw the ball downfield with six completions over the middle or down the sideline, including a 52 yarder on the second play of the game when he hit Bam Jackson in stride. Lewis also showed his ability to scramble for positive yardage, something we really haven't seen much from him this season. There's still room for more improvement, but this Cajun offense is really, really good.
For me, the biggest improvement on this team is on the defensive side of the football. This is a physical defense, maybe the most physical since the Nelson Stokley days. The Cajuns have players that can make plays at crucial times. The defensive line doesn't get pushed around and Higgins, Hill, Dillon, Moncrief, and the others up front can be disruptive. The linebackers have been making plays all year and the secondary is much improved. But that secondary really hasn't been tested like they will be in the next two games. They have to be better.
There are three parts to a unit, however and the kicking game has been an adventure...and not in a good way. Kenny Almandares has done a very good job on kickoffs and Rhys Burns has been solid as a punter as well. The Cajuns have done a very good job in kick coverage. While the Cajuns kick return game is good, but Raymond Calais isn't getting many opportunities. When kickoffs haven't been touchbacks, the opposition kicks away from the Breaux Bridge native.
The rest of the kicking game is an adventure.
Eric Garror can be a dynamic punt returner. He's already shown that, albeit most of his good returns have been called back because of penalty. But he's muffed three punts in the last two games and cost the Cajuns ten points this past Saturday. Placekicking has been anything but automatic. Stevie Artigue is just 2-6 in field goal attempts and hasn't made anything longer than 27 yards. Almendares got an opportunity on Saturday, but missed an extra point. These kind of things can get you beat in a close game against a good team.
And, the Cajuns have two tough ones coming up.
There are only two games on the Cajuns' October schedule. They will be the two toughest games in conference play. First up is Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are unbeaten, are close to breaking into the Top 25 and they have a road win over North Carolina. They are the gold standard of the Sun Belt Conference. But after three straight trips to Boone, this time the Cajuns get App State at Cajun Field on Wednesday, October 9th. App returns nearly its entire offense from a year ago and the Mountaineers have scored points at a rate similar to the Cajuns. A win could put the Cajuns in position to host the Sun Belt title game on December 7th, but...
Eight days later the Cajuns are in Jonesboro to face Arkansas State. The Red Wolves opened their league slate with a win at Troy. Blake Anderson's bunch have suffered a ridiculous amount of injuries, but they boast the league's best receiving corps and, despite losing quarterback Logan Bonner, are capable of putting up yards and points in bunches. The game is a crucial one. Even with a win against App, the Cajuns could be sitting home on Championship Saturday if they can't win in Jonesboro...something that has happened only twice since 1991.
September was an enjoyable month for Cajun fans. We are seeing a football team that's fun to watch. And, it's always fun to win.
But I believe they have to get better and be ready to play their best football over the next seventeen days.
That is when we'll find out just how good the Cajuns are.