Sunday, May 07, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: LOUSIANA-LAFAYETTE
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Forward steps may be small, but it won't take a leap for team that missed its conference championship by a field goal
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 20-37 (15-18 Sun Belt) - 2005: 6-5 (5-2 Sun Belt)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Not much, other than a slight breakthrough that led to a four-game winning streak to close 2005, a winning record and the share of the Sun Belt Championship, none of which the team had approached in any of Coach Rickey Bustle's first three seasons.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Lafayette's going to run, run, run, run, run, take a drag or two. The heart of the offense remains in senior quarterback Jerry Babb and sophomore running back Tyrell Fenroy, the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in '05, when he ran for 95-plus yards per game against a few atrocious defenses en route to heading the seventh-best rushing offense in the country. His help freed up Babb, a big white pocket passer-looking guy who had nevertheless led an atrocious ground game as a sophomore, to, well, hand off more, because the passing game fell off the charts even by Sun Belt standards (132 ypg). But Babb still ran pretty well (44 ypg), along with returning backup QB Michael Desormeaux (about 61 ypg) and the unit wound up leading the league in scoring and total yards anyway.
IF WE MUST THROW... Babb and Desormeaux shared the job for the remainder of the year after the latter's mid-season fill-in duty while Babb was injured, but the results give the edge to Babb: Desormeaux may be a more consistent scrambler, but Babb ran well, too, and at least put up a couple of touchdowns (three - even if they were all against I-AA Northwestern State - to match his INT total - two of those coming, again, against Northwestern State); Desormeaux's arm was all junk, throwing five picks to zero scores. Most importantly, the team was 1-3 with Desormeaux taking most of the snaps, and finished up 4-0 after Babb re-entered the lineup. The points per game also jumped following Babb's return, up from 20 in all-Desormeaux games to 36 when the two shared or it was all Babb down the stretch, including a 54-point romp over then-league leader UL-Monroe in the finale. Babb remains the main man on the team's depth chart, but both are going to play.
DOES ANY OF THAT QB STUFF MATTER? Uh, no: the offensive uptick late in the season is due mostly to the decision to run the shit out of both the quarterbacks and especially Fenroy - the freshman's carries jumped over 20 in every game of the four-game win streak that closed the season, where he hadn't topped 16 in any previous contest. And in case you didn't do the math earlier, yes, the Cajuns won five of seven Sun Belt games without throwing a touchdown pass in a single one of them.
WHICH IS WHERE, OF COURSE... ...our old friend the offensive line comes in, or, in the case of multi-year starters Greg Hodges and Justin Ernest, goes out. Still, there are three starters back, all veterans, which should allow the running game to stay on track and possibly even allow Babb enough time to regain some of the passing prowess he displayed his first two seasons - though the graduation of long-time top option Bill Sampy probably means at least the same heavy responsibility on the front guys to keep the ground game moving as last year.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: In early February, reports leaked that Bustle's wife, Lynn, a professor at UL Lafayette in the Visual Arts Department in the College of the Arts, may have scheduled her husband's first ever dentist's appointment. Rumors spread around campus, but were not confirmed.
On the field, "there were no losers" in a Spring game that had zero turnovers and only a couple penalties (except for the Desmoreaux/Fenroy-led Red team, which lost, 13-10). Not that you can ever go by those Sun Belt refs...
But the big plus for the Red, and for the Cajuns: Desmoreaux strikes thorugh the air! The sophomore was shut out of the end zone with his arm last year, but hit redshirt freshman Phillip Nevels on a 79-yard scoring "strike," breaking the O-fer. Sign of great things to come? Well, the throw did come against a mostly back-up defense from UL-Lafayette, so draw your own conclusion.
REASON FOR HOPE: First winning team since the Delhomme/Stokley Era has most of its major contributors back, along with a new, tough identity as a run-first power team.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Still losing to Florida Atlantic and Eastern Michigan by almost six combined touchdowns...and that team's supposed to be a conference front-runner?
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... A Withdrawal Liability Payment Fund - just as any organization established to provide funds to meet the liability of employers withdrawing from a multi-employer pension fund is exempt from the chilling burden of federal taxes under Section 501(c)(22) of the 1986 United States Tax Code, the NCAA's extreme effort to strip schools of derogatory and/or racially insensitive mascots has failed thus far to extend similar efforts to Lafayette despite its representation of the unfounded claim that people of the ethnic group consisting of the descendants of Acadians who settled primarily in present-day Louisiana after they were expelled from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in 1755 as a result of their refusal to swear allegiance to the British Crown are, in fact, "Ragin.'" What up wit dat?
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... There is no reason Lafayette can't repeat its winning record, win the Sun Belt, earn its first bowl bid in many, many years and maybe, just maybe even beat a non-conference I-A opponent...er, three out of four wouldn't be so bad.
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss
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