UL coach Napier: 'We want to be a balanced operation'
MOBILE, Ala. — A ground attack ranked fifth in the country at 281.0 rushing yards per game. A scoring defense ranked 11th nationally at 17.10 points per game allowed. A scoring offense ranked 11th at 37.1 points per game.
As if Ragin’ Cajun opponents did not have enough to worry about already, UL has an addition to the column of causes for concern.
The Cajuns threw for 339 yards in their 48-7 win at Coastal Carolina last week, finding success through the air as the Chanticleers sold out on the run and dared them to do so.
“They were very pressure-oriented,” UL coach Billy Napier said, “so we felt we had to keep them off-balance, and we did.
“That was the plan, and (quarterback) Levi (Lewis) was sharp as a tack. I hope we can continue to throw and catch it that way in the future.”
With that, 7-2 UL added one more entry to the list of things to worry about for opponents still to come — including 1-8 South Alabama, which the Cajuns visit Saturday.
“It is what it is,” Napier said.
“We do have balance. That’s who we want to be. We want to be a balanced operation.”
Lewis took his game to another level at Coastal Carolina, giving South Alabama coach Steve Campbell something extra to prepare for.
Campbell called UL “a team that’s very efficient on offense.”
“Very strong running game,” he said, “and last game out the quarterback really threw the ball well.”
Lewis went 26-of-30 for 296 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to backup Jaiave Magalei.
Fourteen different Cajuns made at least one catch, including all four tight ends.
Top receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley — who is headed to the East-West Shrine Bowl — led the way with seven receptions for 71 yards and a TD.
“The thing is, they do run the ball as good as anybody in the country — and that means you’ve got to get some secondary guys involved in stopping the run,” Campbell said, “and he’s got weapons on the outside.
“They did a great job. They have all year. But really this past week against Coastal, they really spread it out and he did a good job of getting the ball to those guys in space and (getting) you in 1-on-1 situations.
“Our corners really need to do a great job this week of locking down their receivers,” Cambell added, “because they do have some playmakers on the outside.”
Napier loved the fact so many Cajuns were involved in the passing game.
“It’s great for morale,” he said.
“I promise you all those guys didn’t expect maybe for us to have that amount of production from that amount of players. But they practiced the right way.
“They were prepared,” he added, “and certainly Levi was on top of his game and distributed the ball to the right people at the right time.”
The junior lefty displayed especially strong decision-making on his RPO plays, and air-game execution all around was much improved.
UL’s 339 passing yards at Coastal, in fact, were 120-plus more than the Cajuns’ current season average.
“We were lights out. … Levi was on point, and certainly the skill players created separation,” Napier said. “They got open, and they made plays when they had a chance to make them.”
But something else was different than most prior outings for Lewis, who was UL’s backup to then-senior Andre Nunez last season and took over as the clear-cut starter this season.
He appeared to have much more zip on the ball than usual, something that — if it continues — could cause trouble not only for South Alabama but also UL’s last two regular-season opponents, Troy on Nov. 23 and UL Monroe on Nov. 30, both at home.
“It was something different about it,” said Napier, who is in his second season as UL’s head coach.
“He (Lewis) was ready to go, and he was confident, decisive, very comfortable with the plan and very comfortable with what they were doing. … The guy played his best game since I’ve been here.”