UL Lafayette Newpapers
UL Lafayette Newpapers
UL Lafayette Newpapers
There's no time for head-hanging this week, so says Louisiana head coach Rickey Bustle.
"The preseason's over," Bustle said Sunday before his Ragin' Cajun football team held an evening practice. "It didn't go how we wanted it to go, but we can't worry about that now. Our conference games start on a short week."
The 1-3 Cajuns, still smarting from a last-second 24-21 home loss to Central Florida on Saturday at Cajun Field, open Sun Belt Conference play in a rare Thursday night battle against league newcomer Florida Atlantic (0-5).
"Our motivation will be the short week we have coming," said sophomore linebacker Mark Risher, who had seven solo tackles with two for losses, a sack and a forced fumble Saturday. "It's hard, but we'll have to put this one behind us."
Risher, a product of St. Thomas More, was part of a defense that recorded five sacks on UCF quarterback Steven Moffett in the game's last 18 minutes. Those sacks - the first of the year for the UL defense - helped limit UCF to only 39 offensive yards in the second half before the Knights' late 51-yard march that set up John Brown's winning 28-yard field goal.
"Defensively, we gave a great effort," Bustle said. "There were a lot of big plays in the game, a lot of sacks and tackles for losses."
There were also key plays offensively, many of those provided by redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Desormeaux. Junior and three-year starter Jerry Babb suffered a sprained ligament in his right shoulder on Saturday's fifth play at the end of a 15-yard scramble.
Desormeaux came on and struggled on UL's first three possessions, but over the final two and one-half quarters the former Catholic-New Iberia standout hit 10-of-17 passes for 106 yards and rushed for 66 more.
"The last thing you expect and want is for a leader like Jerry to go down," said Desormeaux, who took 69 snaps. "It took me a couple of series to get into the flow. I really think we came together as a team tonight, and hopefully we'll keep playing for each other in the future."
"I thought we got going after Mike settled down," Bustle said. "I was proud of Mike. The great thing he has now is something to correct."
Desormeaux took most of the practice snaps Sunday and natural freshman John Hundley of STM worked as the No. 2 quarterback. Bustle said Sunday's 90-minute drill was similar to his team's normal Sunday sessions even with the short week, and the squad will combine practice work in today's session that won't start until 8:30 p.m. because of late classes and labs.
"If we do the things in the conference that I hope we can do," he said, "you'll look back on this past game and not think much of it. That's hard to do right now, but I told our team that we're a better football team than we were two weeks ago."
BABB STATUS: Babb got an X-ray on his shoulder Sunday which showed a "mild to moderate" ligament sprain. The normal recovery period from that injury is one to three weeks depending on position played - down linemen could return more quickly after spraining that particular ligament, while quarterbacks could take longer because of the range of motion needed to throw.
Babb was wearing his yellow jersey for Sunday's practice, but obviously saw no action while wearing an electrical nerve stimulator to help manage shoulder pain. He will be evaluated again by team doctors during the week.
TELEVISION: Thursday's game is part of the ESPN Regional package and will be shown by Cox Sports (channel 27 on the Lafayette cable) with airtime at 7 p.m. Sam Smith and Doug Graber will handle announce duties.
It's also the first of two straight Thursday night TV games, with UL traveling to face Arkansas State next Thursday, Oct. 13. That 6:30 p.m. game is also an ESPN Regional telecast and will also be aired by Cox Sports.
BUSTLE WAS RIGHT: Central Florida coach George O'Leary was convinced the Cajuns had 12 players on the field just prior to his team's late field goal try, and was trying to get an official's attention when his deep snapper unexpectedly snapped the ball with 5.6 seconds left.
"I was going to the officials with two seconds left to get a time out, but then we snapped it for some reason," O'Leary said. "I thought they had 12 on the field, but we shouldn't have snapped it to begin with."
As it turned out, video of the play showed the Cajuns with their regular 11 on the field when Brown pulled his first attempt. But a time out called by the UL sideline just before the kick gave him another chance, and Brown nailed the game-winner on his second try.
"I don't know what happened," Bustle said. "I was going to call one, but the way they (UCF) were rushing out there I wanted them to kick it. Things get confusing on the sidelines and I don't know where it was coming from."
SHORT AT WILLIE: During UCF's final drive to its winning field goal, the Cajuns didn't have either of the weakside "Willie" linebackers on their depth chart available. Tyler Norman was out with heat problems and Wes Simon was suffering the effects of a concussion. Both were in black jerseys (no practice) Sunday.
"Wes wanted to go back in and was arguing with the trainers," said defensive coordinator Brent Pry, "but he wasn't in any condition to get back out there."
That left junior Derek Morel to fill that role. Morel, a product of New Orleans-Jesuit, played the "Willie" last year but moved to the middle linebacker slot this season.
UCF ran running back Kevin Smith nine straight plays - eight official carries and a UL offside penalty - for 46 yards and the penalty five to set up Brown's field goal.
UL Lafayette Newpapers
UL Lafayette Newpapers
Through three and a half football games, the University of Louisiana defense didn't record a quarterback sack.
Suddenly, in the third quarter last Saturday, the Ragin' Cajuns somehow morphed into a red version of the Purple People Eaters … into a Doomsday Defense minus the silver star … into a smaller-sized Steel Curtain.
Five … count 'em, five … quarterback sacks against Central Florida. Twice the Cajuns sacked Golden Knight quarterback Steven Moffett on consecutive plays.
"We had schemed them up pretty well to attack their protections," said UL defensive coordinator Brent Pry. "We talked to the South Florida coaches, and we put two new blitzes in and put a lot of emphasis on four pre-existing blitz packages."
Most of those involved getting big plays from the middle linebackers, and Mark Risher and Brenton Burkhalter didn't disappoint.
Risher, a sophomore from St. Thomas More, finished with seven solo tackles among his nine stops, and one of his two tackles for negative yardage was a 10-yard sack.
Burkhalter, a redshirt freshman from Parkview Baptist in Baton Rouge, had a pair of sacks totaling 24 yards among his career-high eight tackles.
"We knew we had to step up and play better as a group," Burkhalter said of Pry's linebacker corps. "We'd been struggling … the linebackers are the core of the defense, and I really think we stepped up as a group."
"Coach (Pry) had challenged us in front of the whole defense," Risher said. "I think we responded. If you go back and look at the film, it's hard to see how we lost that game when we played so hard."
The Cajuns lost that contest 24-21 on a last-second field goal, but may have found the key to a defense that had struggled at times through three games - and in last Saturday's first 21 minutes when UCF stormed out to a 21-0 lead.
"We have to get better with some of our coverage disciplines," Pry said. "We're not as certain on where we should be. But we obviously did a lot better as the game went along Saturday."
The sacks helped. All five came in a string of 15 Knight offensive plays, with tackle Marshall Delesdernier and fellow linebacker Jonathon Vance joining Burkhalter and Risher as sackers.
"We got some guys in there free and they did a nice job of tackling," Pry said. "When you can get that kind of pressure, it helps your four-man rush. But there's no question that this was Mark's and Brenton's best games ever here."
"We were coming close to getting some earlier when we got some pressure on," Burkhalter said. "As it went along, the DB's were holding on to their guys a little longer and gave us a chance. The defensive line was making holes and we all just started clicking.
"As a linebacker you always want to get a blitz call, getting to run in there without having to think, just get to the quarterback and hit him as hard as you can."
"After the first quarter, the linebackers had their best game as a group," Risher said. "There's still a lot of things we've looked at and we can improve on, but the important thing is we have to come out with a win and we didn't do that Saturday."
Pry expects those wins to come if Risher and Burkhalter continue their improvement in the middle.
"They played that game as well as you could ask them to play," he said. "And that's a sophomore and a freshman, so they should get better every week."
UL Lafayette Newpapers
FAU's Embick tough to corral
Danny Embick knows that time's running out on his chances to play football on the "next" level.
Maybe that's why he threw for 299 yards in the season opener on Sept. 3, kicking off his senior year at Florida Atlantic with a bang.
"I'm hoping I can have a good enough year to where maybe I can get into a camp," Embick said as the Owls prepared for Thursday's Sun Belt Conference battle against Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns at Cajun Field. "I haven't done much in college, and now it's my senior year."
That opening-game start against the Kansas Jayhawks was only his second in five years of college football, with the other coming against NAIA member Edward Waters near the end of the 2004 season. He threw for 110 yards in part-time duty that game, an easy 49-15 victory that was part of FAU's 9-3 season.
Embick's now the starter, heading up a team that lost 28 seniors and most of the main cogs of the program's first four years. And, at times, he's had to carry a heavier-than-anticipated load.
He enters Thursday's 7:05 p.m. contest ranked fourth in the Sun Belt in passing, having not yet matched those first-game figures. But he does have six touchdowns, and he's provided most of the offense for an Owl team that's averaging less than 100 yards per game rushing - and he's got almost one-third of the team's rush yards.
"He is a warrior," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger, whose team brings in an 0-5 record. "He's certainly been carrying out his end of the bargain in a tough situation. What he has done, going against greater competition, has been truly heartwarming and an inspiration to me and the team."
Embick's been waiting on the Owl sideline for two years, with former Owl star Jared Allen starting 44 of the 47 games FAU's played in its brief football history. In Schnellenberger's system the backup quarterback sees extensive action, and Embick threw for 1,002 yards and eight scores over the past two years.
Even his quarterback-in-waiting status was an improvement over his first two collegiate seasons, spent in what he called a "disaster" at West Virginia.
"The school sucked," Embick told the Miami Herald of his redshirt and freshman seasons with the Mountaineers. "Nobody knows about the mistreatment, how the coaches are on you all the time. Nothing was ever good enough."
He was a prep hot-shot at Dwyer High in Palm Beach Gardens, just north of FAU's Boca Raton campus, and was Florida's Class 5A All-State quarterback. He accounted for 3,050 yards and 33 touchdowns and led Dwyer to a 13-2 record and the state title game.
With those credentials and a desire to transfer, FAU welcomed him with open arms in the 2003 spring semester.
"We recruited him out of high school and thought we had a good shot at him," Schnellenberger said. "He made up his mind that he was going to come back, and we're glad he did because he fits well with our offense."
So far this year he's completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 859 yards in his five starts and rushed for 115 more against a schedule that has overwhelmed the still-fledgling program over the last three weeks.
FAU lost to nationally-ranked Minnesota 46-7 and Louisville 61-10 surrounding a 28-21 home loss to UL Monroe in the program's first-ever Sun Belt game.
"They've played some great teams," said UL coach Rickey Bustle of the Owls, "but every time I've seen them on film, against Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Louisville, whoever, they've had a hard time tackling that guy. He's a playmaker. The biggest thing is his ability to escape, keep the ball alive and move it down the field."
"This year I'm trying to do a lot more different things, more nakeds, more bootlegs," Embick said. "Before, I just tried to stay within the mold of what we were doing."
UL Lafayette Newpapers
Three Cajun receivers hail from the Sunshine State.
Texas high school football has its legends, its traditions, its aura. It has "Friday Night Lights" and its own magazine.
The southern part of Florida doesn't have that level of national recognition - except from those who truly know football - but it does have one distinction Texas can't boast.
South Florida has produced enough talented high school football players to spawn three brand-new college programs - the University of South Florida, Florida International and Florida Atlantic - in the last decade.
All are now Division I-A members, and the latter member of that group comes to Cajun Field at 7:05 p.m. tonight to take on Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns in the Sun Belt Conference opener for the hosts.
The rapid growth of those programs comes as no surprise to Jason Chery, Derrick Smith and Corey Fredrick. They experienced first-hand what kind of talent was present in the little latitudes.
"It's pretty hot down there," said Smith. "There's a lot of good talent down there, a lot of skill players and a lot of speed. They take pride in having all that speed."
That threesome - two first-time freshmen and a junior college transfer - have brought that type of speed and athleticism to the Ragin' Cajun program and to the wide receiver corps. It's not a coincidence that the only three Floridians on the UL dress roster tonight are all wide outs.
"It's what we're known for," said Fredrick, the team's third-leading receiver (11-143) and who has had three catches in each of the last three games. "When you come out of Florida, you're supposed to be fast."
Fredrick and Smith both played prep ball at Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, with Fredrick playing two years at Compton Community College and Smith coming to the Cajuns right out of high school. Smith currently leads the team in receiving with 18 catches for 209 yards and two scores, and had a three-touchdown game (one by rushing) in UL's lone win against Northwestern State.
Chery came from only slightly further north, prepping at Spanish River High in West Palm Beach and growing up only a couple of miles from Florida Atlantic's Boca Raton campus.
"It's very competitive down there," Chery said. "You can go in there thinking you're going to play and be a big star, and you find out there's a lot of guys as good as you. They've got linebackers there that could be receivers anywhere else."
Chery, whose family is of Haitian descent, has three catches so far this season.
"They (FAU) wanted me to sign there," he said, "but that was too close to home. I wanted to get out of the state and see the world."
In that process, they'll be seeing several old high school rivals tonight. FAU's two-deep depth chart for tonight includes only two non-Floridians, the great majority from Orlando and points south, and the Owls' entire roster has only five players hailing from outside the state.
In Chery's case, he's also seeing family since FAU backup quarterback McKinson Souverain of nearby Delray Beach - who many say is the Owls' fastest player - is his cousin.
"There's a lot of guys on that team I played against," said Smith, who added that FAU didn't recruit him heavily. "The rivalries down there are really big … they get after it pretty good."
"It's competitive every day and every week," Fredrick said. "It's just as big and just as intense as any high school football anywhere."