MONROE – As quickly as Louisiana football seized the opportunity, it slipped away just as fast Saturday night.
With 11:30 remaining inside Malone Stadium, the Ragin Cajuns somewhat comfortably held a 10-point lead. A bad snap on a field goal attempt, which ULM cashed in and less than five minutes later, that lead vanished into the Monroe night sky.
An 89-yard pitch-and-catch from quarterback Chandler Rogers to Tyrone Howell moved ULM down to the 1-yard line. Malik Jackson cleaned things up two plays later with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Warhawks their first lead of the game.
UL (2-2, 0-1 Sun Belt) couldn't recover with Chandler Fields throwing an interception the ensuing possession as Car'lin Vigers sealed the 21-17 victory, ULM's first over the Cajuns since 2017.
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Timing is everything. The Cajuns were rolling on offense through the first two drives, taking just 10 plays to notch two touchdowns. As coach Michael Desormeaux has continuously said, backup Ben Wooldridge would be playing every third series.
So Wooldridge was inserted in UL's third series and the offense promptly went three-and-out. The rest of the half, the Ragin' Cajuns managed three points. Would the group have been able to maintain its rhythm longer had no change at quarterback taken place?
It's tough to say but against ULM (2-2, 1-0), who had no answer for Fields early, it looked like the timing of Wooldridge entering the game threw things off in the first half.
Fields looked the best he's looked all season at 18-for-30 passing for 211 yards and two total touchdowns, a banner performance in his early career, but looked out of sync from the second quarter on.
Special teams mistakes cost UL
The Cajuns tried a field goal to extend their lead to 20-7 early in the fourth quarter but a bad snap took away the chance to add more of a cushion.
Later, a snap that sailed over Louisiana punter Rhys Byrns' head gave ULM possession inside the 10-yard line. The Warhawks cashed in three plays later to cut the lead to 17-14. More importantly, it provided ULM the chance to ultimately take the lead.
Louisiana's run game finds some room
How surprisingly ineffective Louisiana's rushing attack has been through the first three games has been a big hurdle in the offense's pursuit of consistency. Maybe its ground game performance against ULM will jumpstart the tailbacks and linemen.
Chris Smith rushed for a season-high 41 yards, averaging 4 yards per carry. More importantly, he looked shifty and decisive. Fields and Wooldridge were a tad more involved in the run game, which kept defenders honest.
Cajuns rush defense looks porous
On Andrew Henry's 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, once he was 2 yards downfield, everyone in the stadium knew he was off to the races. That's because the backend of UL's defense was nowhere to be found.
It wasn't just the one busted play. The Warhawks found room to run through and around the Cajuns' defense to the tune of 227 yards. It was the second straight game Louisiana has allowed more than 140 yards on the ground.
Cory Diaz covers the LSU Tigers and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns for The Daily Advertiser as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his Tigers and Cajuns coverage on Twitter: @ByCoryDiaz. Got questions regarding LSU/UL athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana football loses at ULM, drops Sun Belt Conference opener