The Cajuns have begun stumbling in the final stretches of the 2023 season. After losing to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Louisiana finds itself sitting at 5–5 overall with a conference record of 2–4. The Cajuns are quickly being put against a wall as there are only two games left in the season to grab the last elusive win for a bowl game.
In a better world, Louisiana should already be bowl eligible after a win against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles entered the game with a putrid 2–7 record and one of the worst defenses in the Sun Belt with only Arkansas State and ULM having worst defenses.
Despite their defense, the Golden Eagles, led by their junior running back Frank Gore Jr., came into Cajun Field and won.
Louisiana’s defense could not seem to stop Gore as he ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime.
Gore accounted for more rushing yards by himself than Louisiana’s backfield rushers Dre’lyn Washington, Jacob Kibodi and Zylan Perry who combined for 144 yards and a single touchdown.
One of the biggest parts of Louisiana’s loss was third string quarterback, Chandler Fields. Looking beyond his stat line of 260 yards and 2 touchdowns one will find a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 36.1.
This comes from Fields continuously missing wide open receivers, mainly overthrowing them and making constant mistakes like fumbles. Fields fumbled the ball multiple times throughout the game which would end up killing drives or turning the ball over in one case.
Now I will say it was not all Fields, as there were multiple penalties. Over the course of the game Louisiana racked up 10 penalties accounting for a total of 98 yards. The worst of these were the, what felt like constant, false starts that contributed to killing multiple drives.
Another massive issue that the Cajuns faced throughout the game, and throughout the season, has been play calling and decision making. The Cajuns went for it on fourth down five times throughout the game and only converted twice. Two of those failed attempts came on goal line stands by the Southern Miss defense.
One of those goal line stands came at the very end of the first half where, following a rollout, Fields would find a receiver who was ruled out of bounds at the one.
So on fourth down the offense was on the field, and they ran a halfback dive right up the middle.
At first it seemed like the Cajuns made it, as a pile quickly developed, one which was pushed over the goal line before the defense pushed the pile back. The officials, though, ruled that the play failed and no touchdown was scored, locking both teams at 14–14 entering halftime.
I also noticed multiple points where, within the redzone, the Cajuns would dial up the same play action roll out where the quarterback was looking to throw it to a tight end or wide receiver in the red zone.
These attempts mostly failed as Fields would overthrow it, or in one case when freshman tight end Terrance Carter dropped a pass in the endzone.
The Cajuns just need to try and bounce back and grab the last win needed for a bowl game. It does not seem that their next opponent will allow such an easy bounce-back, as the Cajuns will be traveling back to Alabama to play Troy who are coming off a dominant win over ULM.
The Trojans are currently first in the Sun Belt West and would be the best team in the Sun Belt if it was not for JMU who are currently undefeated. Troy has only lost one game at home so far and that was a two point loss to the aforementioned JMU.
The Cajuns are going to need to be on their game defensively as the Trojans boast one of the best passing offenses in the conference. That offense is led by senior quarterback Gunnar Watson who just threw for over 200 yards and four touchdowns in their win over ULM.
The run game also can not be taken lightly as junior running back Kimani Vidal has rushed for well over 1,000 yards and accounted for seven touchdowns.
Typically Troy does not beat their opponents by lighting up the scoreboard, instead they make sure their opponents cannot. They boast the best defense in the league by almost every metric possible, with only JMU having a better rush defense.
If Louisiana hopes to take a win at Troy they are going to have to try and fix their offensive issues. The focus should be on trying to keep the Trojans defense on their toes and making sure that their offense can not score with the rhythm they usually get.
While every game is technically a winnable game, I am sure that the Cajuns can pick up what many would consider an unlikely victory against Troy. If they can play Cajun ball, and without any mistakes, they can beat Troy and grab themselves a bowl berth.