When last seen before Saturday’s win over Northwestern State, UL’s Ragin’ Cajuns were in Kentucky trying to wrap their minds around another loss to an SEC opponent.
The Cajuns had eliminated a 33-10 third quarter deficit only to lose in the last minute. Big plays early in the game and untimely penalties late had cost the Cajuns. Overall though, it was the best first-game effort under Coach Mark Hudspeth.
View a photo gallery from Saturday's game here.
Wise guys who follow college football for fun and profit are quick to note that a team improves most between the first and second games of a season. No one denies a 44-17 win is a dramatic improvement over a 40-33 loss. But just as undeniable is the fact NSU plays in the Southland, not the SEC. An accurate measure of the Cajuns progress must wait two weeks for the Akron Zips or maybe a week later and Louisiana Tech.
Meanwhile Cajuns fans are free to marvel at Elijah McGuire who tied a school record rushing for five touchdowns, four in the first half. He ran for 162 yards on only 14 carries. Against Kentucky McGuire had rushed 27 times, a career high, and some observers had expressed concern he might be overworked. Hudspeth wasn’t one of them. In the first quarter UL had 10 offensive plays; McGuire ran on seven for 113 yards and two touchdowns. In the next two quarters he had another seven carries, three for touchdowns. He sat out the fourth quarter.
A late scratch of Jalen Nixon meant Brooks Haack did not share quarterback duties. He was very efficient running six times for 55 yards and eight for nine passing for 187. The Cajuns had no turnovers.
Two problems first evident the week before returned: big plays and untimely penalties. NSU scored its first touchdown on a 41-yard run to close to 14-7 early in the second quarter. The play was possible only because an offside penalty gave the Demons a first down after the Cajuns had held on third and four. But the defense responded on the next Demon possession. Three consecutive tackles for losses by Cajun defensive backs forced a three and out punt.
Those same defensive backs still have some coverage issues. Wide open NSU receivers dropped two certain touchdowns, and the Demons other two scores were set up by long pass completions.
An early open date gives the Cajuns two weeks to work out their problems and get healthy. For Cajun fans, especially the 26,284 who showed up at Cajun Field on a perfect fall day, that will seem a long time.