How UL's defense helped Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football run over Appalachian State

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The recipe for good defense is simple, as UL coach Billy Napier sees it.

One part is attacking the ball. The other: limiting explosive plays. Stir the two and it makes a perfect roux.  

“That’s kind of been our secret sauce,” Napier said.

But it seemed there was a little extra seasoning in the gumbo when the Ragin’ Cajuns beat Appalachian State 41-13 on Tuesday night at Cajun Field.

UL (5-1, 3-0 Sun Belt Conference) came up with four takeaways, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, setting the tone in what wound up being the closest the Cajuns have come to a complete game this season.

“We finally put it together,” Napier said.

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UL numbers mattered

Four turnovers are one more than UL managed in its first five games of the season combined.

That’s not the only number that mattered.

The Cajuns went into the game with opponents having made 34-of-74 third-down conversion attempts, 46%.

App State went 0-of-11.

The difference?

“We just came with our intensity, like we’re supposed to, like how we (were) last year,” cornerback Eric Garror said, referencing a 2020 season in which UL went 10-1. “We came with the mindset of ‘They’ve got good receivers, so we’ve got to shut them down.’ And that’s what we did.”

Cornerback Eric Garror makes an interception as the Cajuns take on App State in Cajun Field. Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.  Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

UL limited App State (4-2, 1-1) to a season-low 211 yards, 270.4 below its season average and 115 fewer than its prior season-low of 326 in a loss at No. 22 Miami.

The Mountaineers managed just 76 rushing yards, 51 less than its prior season low of 127 against Miami. Their 135 passing yards also were a season low, 64 less than its previous low, also at Miami.

After UL’s sixth meeting with App State since 2018, including losses in the 2018 and 2019 Sun Belt championship games, Napier largely his credited his defensive coordinator for the Mountaineers’ offensive ineffectiveness.

“The big thing is we’ve got a great staff. … I wouldn’t rather go to battle with anybody but Patrick Toney (in) a big game like this, now,” he said.

“I just know how hard the guy works and how bright he is. I know how competitive he is. … I think Coach Toney had a terrific plan. He and the staff did a terrific job. Then we executed the plan.”

Takeaways restore Cajun confidence

UL took a 20-3 lead on a 4-yard Chris Smith touchdown run that came four plays after Zi’Yon Hill sacked Mountaineers quarterback Chase Brice, forcing a backward push-pass fumble recovered by safety Percy Butler.

Two App State possessions later nickel back Brandon Bishop intercepted Brice. UL didn’t get any points out of the ensuing drive, but it did chew up seven minutes and 20 seconds of valuable clock.

Brandon Bishop makes an interception as the Cajuns take on App State in Cajun Field. Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021.

The Mountaineers’ opening drive of the second half ended with Garror intercepting Brice. Two players later, Smith ran in from 21 yards out.

Early in the fourth quarter, with UL up 34-13, linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill recovered a Jahmir Smith fumble. Four plays after that Emani Bailey had a 26-yard TD run, giving the Cajuns their second straight win over App State after opening the series with eight consecutive losses.

It was the Mountaineers’ worst Sun Belt loss, and a much-needed shot of confidence for a UL team less than satisfied with its first four wins in what’s now a five-game streak.

“I know … we certainly hadn’t played to our potential,” said Napier, whose Cajuns lost their preseason national ranking after a season-opening loss at Texas.

“We’re walking around here grinding away, working extremely hard, and … maybe a little bit frustrated with some of the performances we’ve had, and I think I could see it affecting people.

“We knew,” he added, “that, ‘Hey, look, man, it’s time to put up or shut up,’ right?”