After taking some time away from the season-opening 38-28 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, head coach Billy Napier spoke about the fact that his team’s performance inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and after watching the film, he was proud of everyone involved for the vast improvements from the 56-10 loss in Starkville last year.
“Very proud of our players and our staff. I thought we put our players in position outside of a few calls.” Napier said during his press conference on Monday, “I thought we had a really good plan in all three phases and I was very pleased with the effort that the players played with. We’ve made tons of progress in terms of the intangibles that our team has and have built great trust. This is a group that enjoys being around each and other and play that way.”
Saturday’s ballgame was filled with undisciplined errors, namely five penalties along with five turnovers and Napier put it bluntly: they screwed it up.
“When we screwed it up, typically it was because we screwed it up. They had us a handful of times in a couple of patterns where we’re in a tough match. I think this was a little bit of a reality check for our players.”
Hospital Bed in the Box?
One of the weirdest storylines coming out of week one was Hugh Freeze coaching in a hospital bed on Saturday while still recovering from a severe staph infection back in August. After a 24-0 loss to open up the season against Syracuse, Freeze mentioned that he would make the trip down to Lafayette, Louisiana to coach against the Louisiana Ragin‘ Cajuns on Saturday with the expectation that he would continue to coach from a hospital bed to help with his back pain.
“Our administration is handling all of that but certainly we want to do everything we can do to help Coach Freeze.” Napier said of the former Ole Miss head coach, “If any of us were in that situation and had an obligation to a group of people we would want to do everything we could do for him. I know I would and certainly, I respect him navigating this. Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach Freeze.”
Changes at Offensive Line
The Cajuns offensive line took some hits after the loss to Mississippi State, but there got a lot of help from some of the younger players in Max Mitchell and O’Cyrus Torrence when they needed it.
“We ended up using some of our contingency plans in the game. We always talk about if this guy gets hurt what do we do?” Napier mentioned, “We talked about it at 6:30 a.m. in the staff meeting. Max slid right in there and played left guard and he did a nice job. He had worked there throughout training camp and part of that was because Ken (Marks) got hurt earlier in training camp so we had to work our way through that. We then later slid O’Cyrus in at left where he worked extensively at training camp and played 34 plays.”
Napier credited both players for their efforts on Saturday and mentioned that Torrence will see more time at left guard until Marks is ready to go. When asked about injury updates, Napier said that there will be an injury update during Wednesday’s press conference.
Levi Lewis Will Be Throwing More
When you look at the statistics from the season opener, one thing clearly stands out and that is the balance between run and pass was almost 50-50. Expect that to remain the same with Napier’s offense wanting to keep Levi Lewis upright.
“I’m not a big quarterback run guy. We do certain concepts with a guy but we’d like to play a quarterback that doesn’t hit the entire day,” the former quarterback from Furman university said, “I think the quarterback in our system has to make so many decisions to distribute the ball. There’s so much going out there where the guy’s got to make decisions based on the defense and a couple of scenarios where he did run it was the right decision on his part.
“We’re going to try and play a particular brand of ball. I’d much rather hand it to the running backs than have Levi run the ball. I’d much rather throw it to the skill we have on offense.”
The results don’t lie and after Lewis started to relax, he got better in the pocket after Louisiana’s third possession. From the fourth drive to the final drive, Lewis went 23-for-35 for 260 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The junior quarterback will have every chance to improve in this system and Napier is giving him plenty of opportunities to become a better pocket passer.