Billy Napier, No. 23 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football survive scare from UL Monroe
Billy Napier and UL (11-1, 8-0 Sun Belt Conference) won for the 11th straight time since a season-opener loss at Texas. The Cajuns face Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Championship game on Dec. 4 (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) at Cajun Field. ULM (4-8, 2-6) closed its first season under coach Terry Bowden with five straight losses.
Up just 14-10 at halftime, UL used a 2-yard Emani Bailey run that capped a four-play, 85-yard drive to take a 21-10 lead with just more than five minutes left in the third quarter.
Running back Malik Jackson had a 12-yard TD run for ULM with 1:35 left, but Peter LeBlanc recovered the onside kick for the Cajuns. Jackson finished 112 rushing yards on 23 carries.
UL got going with a two-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 20-yard Lewis TD run, and ULM answered with a 26-yard Calum Sutherland field goal that capped a 15-play, 66-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes.
UL answered with a 37-yard gadget-play touchdown pass from running back Chris Smith to receiver Kyren Lacy, but ULM QB Rhett Rodriguez hit Boogie Knight with a 46-yard TD throw that helped cut the lead to 14-10 early in the second quarter. It stayed that way at halftime.
Mixed reviews for Lewis
Quarterback Levi Lewis couldn’t have been sharper on UL’s opening drive.
He started with a 55-yard pass to tight end Neal Johnson Jr., then ran in the final 20 yards himself on a quarterback draw.
Lewis, however, cooled off later, missing some underneath throws. He was 7-of-13 at halftime for 102 yards and finished 13-of-22 for 163 yards
Rodriguez hot-and-cold too
Rodriguez, playing his third game after missing six due to a punctured lung, kept ULM in it with some spot-on throws.
But he was hot and cold, too.
Rodriguez’s second-quarter scoring throw to Knight over the middle was on the mark, but he was just 5-of-14 for 83 yards at the break. Chandler Rogers, a Southern Miss transfer who started when Rodriguez was out, got some regularly schedule time late in the half but was unable to do anything with it. Rodriguez returned to start the second half, but both QBs played in the third quarter.
Uncharacteristic defensive penalties made things more difficult than necessary for UL in the opening half.
First, linebacker Ferrod Gardner was called for roughing Rodriguez – negating a would-be interception. Later in the second quarter, a defensive holding penalty negated a sack by Chauncey Manac, who had four first-half sacks in UL’s 42-14 win at Liberty one week earlier. Manac also had a fourth-quarter sack, but he was called on the next play for a horse-collar tackle.
The Cajuns had been averaging only 5.27 penalties per game – with very few of those coming on defense. UL’s defense atoned late in the half, though, as Andre Jones recovered a Manac-forced Andrew Henry fumble.
Nate Snyder still struggling
The Cajuns failed to capitalize on the fumble recovery as Nate Snyder missed a 29-yard field goal.
Snyder, a kickoff specialist who took over after starter Kenneth Amendares sustained a season-ending hip injury earlier in the year, was 3-of-7 on field goal attempts prior to Saturday. But he was 29-of-31 on PATs coming in.