‘A lot of lessons to be learned’: Billy Napier laments slow start, shaky ground game in Cajuns’ loss | The (New Orleans) Advocate

From: The (New Orleans) Advocate

Date of Publication: Dec. 15, 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. – After relying on its three star running backs for much of this season, UL-Lafayette was hoping to get another big performance from them Saturday in the Cure Bowl against Tulane.

And during the first drive of the game, it looked like that’s what the Ragin’ Cajuns would get — especially after junior running back Raymond Calais broke out for a 38-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the game.

Instead, the Cajuns’ offense collapsed. Calais, Trey Ragas or Elijah Mitchell couldn’t make much of an impact in their 41-24 loss to the Tulane Green Wave.

“Today’s outcome is a direct reflection of who blocked better, who tackled better, who covered better, who threw and caught the ball better,” coach Billy Napier said. “I mean, there was nothing secret about what happened out there today. Our team was not ready to play, and that’s my job and my responsibility.”

After that promising first score by Calais, it looked like Tulane’s offense could be in for a long day. But UL-Lafayette picked up just 15 yards on its next four drives as its offense sputtered to a halt.

“We can’t start slowly against a good team. We started slow, stalled on a couple drives after the first touchdown, and they’re a good team, they came and executed at a high level,” sophomore tight end Matt Barnes said. “We can’t start slowly in a big game like this and expect to overcome things like that.”

UL-Lafayette relied strongly on its run game all season, with three different running backs capable of big plays. Going into the Cure Bowl, the Cajuns were averaging just over 229 rushing yards a game. But they simply couldn’t get around the Green Wave defense, settling for just 84 total rushing yards.

After his 38-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, Calais picked up just 3 more yards the rest of the game.

“We like to rush the ball,” Napier said, “and certainly today Tulane did a good job of slowing that strength down. … Extra guy in the box, we didn’t handle that as well as maybe we should have, they pressured a little bit to disrupt the run. A lot of lessons to be learned.”

Neither of UL-Lafayette’s other running backs found much success as the game wore on either. After recording a 1,000-yard season and rushing for more than 100 yards in seven games, Ragas managed to pick up just 40 yards and never got into the end zone.

Mitchell, who was knocking on the door of a 1,000-yard season going into Saturday’s game, picked up just 26 yards.

While the Cajuns failed to win their first bowl game since 2014, the team is still excited about its chance to have a big year next season, knowing it hasn’t seen the last of its talented running backs.

“All those backs are coming back and that entire offensive line is coming back so we’ll continue to build on that,” Napier said. “We’ll start this journey over with the 2019 Ragin’ Cajuns next year. I look forward to it.”

About Christian Simmons 43 Articles
My name is Christian Simmons, and I recently graduated from the University of Central Florida with my master's degree in integrated business management. My undergrad degree from UCF is in journalism. I'm passionate about sports in all its forms. I've had internships with the Sun Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, NPR affiliate WMFE and CBS affiliate WKMG. I'm also the co-founder and editor of Knight Sports Now, a student publication that has covered UCF sports since 2017. As a freelance reporter, my stories have appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, The New Orleans Advocate, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La. and the Baltimore Sun, among others.