JAG FOOTBALL RALLIES IN SECOND HALF BEFORE FALLING TO CAJUNS
MOBILE, Ala. – Louisiana scored touchdowns on each of its first two possessions and was up 20 points less than 20 minutes into play, but had to withstand a rally by the University of South Alabama to hold on for a 20-18 Sun Belt Conference football win Saturday at Hancock Whitney Stadium.
The Ragin Cajuns (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) rushed for 225 yards against a Jaguar defense that was allowing just over 55 yards per contest entering play, with Emani Bailey posting 81 yards, Levi Lewis 61, Montrell Johnson 49 and Chris Smith 40.
Bryan Hill scored twice on short runs to cut South’s deficit to eight, finishing the night with 81 yards on the ground. Jake Bentley scored with just under 13 minutes remaining to make it a two-point game, but a two-point conversion failed and the Jags (3-1, 0-1 SBC) missed a field-goal attempt with just over a minute to go as well.
Ferrod Gardner and Chauncey Manac led the Cajuns with seven stops apiece, while the Jaguar defense was paced by the trio of Jamal Brooks, Darrell Luter Jr. and Tré Young after each made four tackles.
-After returning the opening kickoff 87 yards, Smith reach the end from 10 yards out on third down to put UL up 7-0 less than a minute into the contest.
-Lewis’ 22-yard touchdown three minutes later gave the Cajuns a 14-0 edge on the scoreboard — and a 108-21 advantage in total offense — at the end of the period.
-Bailey extended the UL lead to 20-0 with a 15-yard touchdown run with just over 11 minutes to go to the break, with Hill scoring from one yard out a minute-and-a-half before halftime to get the Jags on the board.
-The Ragin’ Cajuns ran just seven plays in the third quarter, with Hill’s second touchdown late in the period drawing USA to within one possession, 20-12.
-Bentley capped a 10-plsy, 55-yard march — and the scoring in the game — with just under 13 minutes remaining in the contest when he reached the end zone from one yard out on fourth-and-goal.
-The Jaguars finished with a 387-283 advantage in total offense, including outpassing UL by a 243-58 margin.
-This was the sixth win in a row in the series for the Cajuns.
-It was the third time in the last four meetings between the two teams in Mobile that the game was decided by seven points or less
-The Jaguar defense gave up less than 300 yards for the third time in four outings this season.
-UL’s 23 minutes and 13 seconds time of possession was the ninth-lowest figure recorded by an opponent since the inception of South’s program in 2009.
-Junior WR Jalen Tolbert became the first player in school history to surpass 2,000 receiving yards in a career after posting a game-best 143 on six catches.
-The performance was the fifth of his career finishing with 100-plus yards receiving in a contest, one shy of the school mark in that category as well.
-After not seeing action in either of USA’s first two games, Hill has now gained 132 yards over the last two outings.
-Brooks finished with multiple stops for loss for the first time this year while falling one tackle shy of matching his previous career high.
-It was the second contest in a row that Wy’Kevious Thomas has recorded a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, while Young was credited with his first stop for loss since South’s game against Tulane on Sept. 12 last fall.
-Senior Chris Henderson recovered the first fumble of his career in the third quarter to account for the only takeaway for either defense on the night.
-Jalen Wayne recorded season-high totals with six catches for 56 yards.
-Caullin Lacy’s 38 yards on three punt returns were the sixth-most posted against an NCAA Division I opponent in the school’s record books.
THEY SAID IT
South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack
Opening statement: “I’m really pleased with our football team right now and excited about what we were able to do. Think about that situation. You have a team here with our history and we were down 20-0 against a standard bearer in our league, a team that’s won the Sun Belt West for three straight years, and we went out and kicked their ass in the second half. It was really exciting to see that our guys were able to operate with a neutral mindset even when they were down like that and try to go win a football game. We played winning football in the second half, and by far that’s the best football we’ve played all season long. If you’re really process oriented and you don’t worry about outcomes, you should be fired up about that football game right now. I’m fired up.”
On if he has any regrets for going for it on fourth-and-goal and then playing for the field goal at the end: “No. I think that’s just the position you hold as the head coach, you get judged by things like that. It was a ‘go’ scenario for us. We were going to go score a touchdown in that situation. You have to think of it like this. You’re over four minutes to go [in the game] and you’re giving one of the best offenses in our league with a very experienced quarterback with three time outs left and all the time in the world, plus they are going to go for every single fourth down [from that point on], which totally changes the outcome of the game if we kick a field goal right there. It changes the way they have to operate moving forward because they are going to hold onto the ball and become a more aggressive offense in that situation. We had them pinned deep in that scenario if we went for it and didn’t get it, which is what happened. Our defense was playing great. They ended up getting I believe two first downs, but we stopped them and were able to get that stop because they weren’t going for it on fourth down. We had a chance to win the game in the end, which is exactly what we needed to do. We had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t finish that knockout blow.”
On how he picks up placekicker Diego Guajardo: “Stay on him and have him keep working. I told him that if something like [missing that kick at the end of the game] bothers you as a starting kicker, then you probably don’t belong in college football; that’s just part of the job. Diego has a game-winner already under his belt and we’re four games into the season. He had an opportunity right there, didn’t get it. I’m hard on our kickers. I get on them every day at practice. We stay on our kickers because they are no different than anybody else on the team. They have to go out and do their job at a high level and we didn’t do that tonight. Diego is going to go right back to work and he’ll have an opportunity to win a big football game for us this season. I’m proud of his work to this point, but very excited to see him respond moving forward.”
On processing this game and moving forward in preparation for Texas State: “I’m not hurting right now, I’m really not. I’m so fired up for our football team. I want to be 4-0 as much as anybody in our program, but all we need to be focused on is progress right now. Outcomes cannot affect demeanor, and what that means is regardless of success or adversity, we have to go do the same thing over and over again. To be down 20-0 in this game, and everything went wrong at the beginning of the game. We just fought and kicked their tail inside and out. We just didn’t finish in the end, and that to me is exciting for our program.”
On the cause of the slow start: “We’ve started slow every week. We’ve opened up drives with some negative plays, some self-inflicted wounds, some things that we’ve got to get corrected. We’ll take a look at that. We’re a program in year one. You talk about starting fast, operating fast, but these first four games are the first time our offense, defense, and special teams has had to go out when it matters and operate. Practices are important, and scrimmages are great, but there’s nothing like game day, game day is always different. Sometimes it takes guys a little bit of time to learn what game day really looks at and how to operate at a high level. My hope is as we grow as a program, so will we grow in the opening drive on both sides of the ball.”
Senior QB Jake Bentley
On the loss: “This one hurts a lot. Coach just said it in the locker room — we can’t let this situation define our season as a team. We have to grow from it and just keep coming to work every day. We know we had opportunities to win the game against a team that has been the top dog on our side of the conference the past couple of years. It hurts that we didn’t win. I think guys know we have the opportunity to continue to make this season something special.”
On moving forward: “Our focus is now on Texas State and what we have to do to win that ballgame and continue to move forward. It hurts tonight, but the guys fought hard. It is over with now, and we just learn from it and focus on moving forward.”
Junior S Keith Gallmon Jr.
On how much the loss hurts: “This is definitely a heartbreaker. We have guys that gave their all from the beginning of the game until the end. We came out flat and dug ourselves a hole, but we fought back and were able to put ourselves in position to win the game. The chips just didn’t fall our way.”
On what the defense was able to do differently after the first couple of series of the game: “We just had to settle down into the game and trust ourselves, and trust our schemes. Whenever we had to make a play we were able to make that play. We had to get guys on the ground. We just had to settle down and make plays.”
On the fake punt play: “It was a great call at the time, it surprised [Louisiana]. Everyone up front blocked their guys and shielded them off. The guys in the shield were able to clear a path for me and I just followed them down the field. I was able to make a big momentum play for us.”
Senior OLB Chris Henderson
On the loss: “It’s a heartbreaker for sure. We had the game in our hands, we just have to dig deep and find a way to win. We played them really well. They have been the most dominant team in our conference the last few years. I really and truly feel like we won that game.”
On moving forward: “We just have to go back to the basics. We have to have a good week of practice and get in the film room and correct those mistakes. We have to do more tackling drills in practice; we missed way too many tackles tonight that went for explosive plays.”
On the rush defense: “We just had to even our rush lanes. We kept rushing past the level of the quarterback and gave him lanes to escape through. We made some adjustments on defense and held them in check.”
Sophomore RB Bryan Hill
On the changes after the first quarter: “We started slow, I guess you could say we were feeling the defense out. We have to get better at starting fast so we don’t put ourselves in a hole like we did tonight.”
On his performance: “I feel like as the game goes on I get stronger as a runner. The offensive line was blocking their butts off as the game went on, they were getting stronger, so that’s what made me get stronger.”
Louisiana head coach Billy Napier
On starting fast: “We started fast in the game. We just weren’t able to put much together. In the second quarter, I think we missed two field goals and a PAT. We had a chance to really create some momentum and we would just sputter and miss a field goal. Then, all of a sudden, they put up a score right before halftime and it’s a two-score game. We come back after halftime and it starts pouring again, so that changes how we call it. We kept giving the ball back to them and our defense did a fantastic job of getting stops. They got the big fourth down stop and forced them to miss two field goals. It isn’t pretty but the Ragin Cajuns are finding a way to win. It was a collective effort of the offense, defense and special teams. I’m proud of the kids. One thing about this team, there is no lack of togetherness or toughness. They play through adversity. It’s almost like they expect to win, regardless of where it’s headed or what’s going on. They line up and play and find different ways to win. I’m proud of our staff and certainly proud of our players with how they handled adversity in the second half. We checked one box today and that was starting fast. It’s one of the things that we have been trying to do better. We had a chance to take a three possession lead multiple times in the game and just couldn’t do it. I give a lot of credit to South Alabama. You can see their improvement, certainly on offense. Defensively, they continue to be one of the better units in the country. They have a lot of athleticism and speed and tackle well. In general, given the conditions, they are tough to run against. We ran it well at times and then they made it tough at times. Overall, there is going to be a lot we can look at here and learn from, but we are 2-0 in the league and 1-0 in the west and back to work.”
On South Alabama hitting deep passes: “I felt like their quarterback really threw it better in the vertical passing game tonight, better than we have seen so far this year. The combination of his arm and those receivers was big. Regardless of what anyone thinks, Kane [Wommack] inherited a pretty good roster and that’s a good-looking squad. It was a lot like the past two games that we played against this team the first and second year I was here. They got the athletes. They are big, fast, physical and explosive. They certainly did enough on offense to get back in the game. We have to finish. We missed two field goals and an extra point and had opportunities in the second half. We just weren’t able to do it and that’s my responsibility. I’m the coach and we will get better and improve.
On getting pressure on Bentley: “We did a good job of affecting the quarterback throughout the game in passing downs. When they went to a seven-man front and had time and threw it vertically is where we had issues. It was part of the plan. You have to give your hats off to the quarterback. That kid threw some absolute strikes in the vertical game. We knew going in, that a big part of the game was going to be South Alabama’s receivers. We were a little soft in the run game, but we were taking away some of these skill position guys that they have. We bent but didn’t break. We generated enough offense early in the game to be able to hang on and win the game. We can coach better and that’s my responsibility. So, we are going to go back to work and come up with some plans for improvement.”
Up next: South visits Texas State next Saturday at 6 p.m. (CDT) for its first road game in almost a month.
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