Coastal Carolina resembled the original cast of Saturday Night Live on Thursday night at Brooks Stadium.
The comedic actors were affectionately known as the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players,” and the Chanticleers were certainly not ready for the spotlight.
In the school’s first nationally-televised prime time game as an FBS member, the Chants were dismantled by one of the top teams in the Sun Belt Conference.
Louisiana-Lafayette handed Coastal its worst loss in Sun Belt play and one of the worst losses in school history, 48-7 in a game that was televised on ESPNU and drew an announced attendance of 14,857.
“We got outcoached in all phases, we got outplayed in all phases,” Chants head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “I knew we’d have to play really well to beat them. They’re very good. We knew we’d have to play really well to try to hang in there and we didn’t in a lot of areas. . . . They poured it on us. No matter what we tried to do we really didn’t have an answer for them today.”
Ragin’ Cajuns junior quarterback Levi Lewis had a career night despite not playing the fourth quarter, completing 26 of 30 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns to set single-game career highs in completions, passing yards and passing TDs, and a school single-game record with an 86.7 completion percentage.
Louisiana’s vaunted running game, which entered the contest ranked third in the nation at 288 yards per game, contributed 225 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries and was led by reserve Chris Smith, who had 99 yards and a score on eight carries.
Coastal was outgained 564-236.
“I’m not really disappointed in the loss, I’m disappointed in the way we executed certain things in all three phases, things that I thought we’d improved on and we looked like we went backwards tonight in a lot of ways,” Chadwell said. “And disappointed too in the standard that we’re trying to play with no matter what, and once they got up on us there our guys didn’t quit, but the energy we’ve played with all year long wasn’t there, they didn’t match it.
“We were getting beat, but the standard that we need to play with I was disappointed in that overall, and that’s on me, I have to do a better job. But just a bad night all around for Coastal Carolina.”
Louisiana (7-2) continues to pace the Sun Belt’s Western Division at 4-1 in the conference, and Coastal (4-5) fell to 1-4 in the conference and has lost eight of its past nine Sun Belt games after pulling out a 36-35 win over Troy with a late two-point conversion on Saturday.
Virginia Tech transfer Sam Denmark’s first collegiate touchdown on a 44-yard pass from Fred Payton with 4 minutes to play kept Coastal from being shut out for the first time since 2011.
CCU quarterback Bryce Carpenter was 9 of 20 for 71 yards and was sacked twice before being relieved by Payton for Coastal’s final possession. C.J. Marable was Coastal’s leading rusher with 54 yards on 10 carries.
Payton, who started CCU’s first six games but missed the past two with an apparent shoulder injury, wasn’t expected to play Thursday but completed his three pass attempts for 62 yards and the TD.
“They told us Fred was cleared. He’d been out three or four weeks and I really wanted to get the first hit out of the way and see how he responded to it,” Chadwell said. “ . . . If we’re going to use him going forward I needed to see him out there and get around and do some things. I wanted to see how healthy I thought he was. I thought about going the other direction but when you come off an injury sometimes the hardest thing to do is the mental aspect of it. You need to get hit and I didn’t want the first hit to be a key situation.”
Louisiana took command early, driving 66 yards in eight plays on the game’s first possession to take a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard Lewis touchdown run.
Coastal’s first play from scrimmage was a flea flicker off a handoff to Marable, and Carpenter hit Jeremiah Miller for a 36-yard gain to the Louisiana 39.
Marable added a 14-yard run before a fumbled option handoff between Carpenter and Jacqez Hairston was recovered by tight end Michael McFarlane for no gain at the 17 and a drop by Isaiah Likely that would have been a first down stalled the drive. Massimo Biscardi then missed a 35-yard field goal attempt to the left.
Louisiana drove 80 yards in nine plays to take a 14-0 lead on a 1-yard Trey Ragas run.
The Chants had a chance to force a punt after three plays, but Elijah Mitchell converted a third-and-14 at the ULL 16 with a 31-yard reception. He caught a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage and was squared up for an open field tackle by cornerback Jordan Morris, but he powered through the tackle, and another farther downfield by linebacker Teddy Gallagher to continue the possession.
Louisiana added a 1-yard touchdown catch by tight end Neal Johnson and 21-yard field goal by Stevie Artigue to take a 24-0 halftime lead, and added three more touchdowns in the third quarter and a field goal in the fourth before Coastal got on the board.
“It [stinks] that you work all week and you go out there and pretty much just get whooped from the opening kickoff. So it’s not a good feeling at all for sure, regardless of its prime time or not prime time,” junior guard Trey Carter said. “We can’t let this carry over. As bad as we lost they can only give you one loss in the loss column.”
Lewis started 15 of 16 for 172 yards and a touchdown, with completions to nine different receivers.
Chadwell said he wasn’t surprised the Ragin’ Cajuns attacked the Chants through the air despite their powerful run game. Because of injuries and lack of depth, the Chants played all sophomores or freshman in the defensive backfield Thursday with the exception of senior cornerback Chandler Kryst.
Senior cornerback Mallory Claybourne missed his first game of the season with an injury and sophomore safety Alex Spillum left the game with an injury.
“If you watch us we’re pretty decent against the run, we’re pretty stout,” Chadwell said. “We’re not very good overall secondary-wise from inexperience, injuries, etc. They knew our starting cornerback was out. They attacked some other people and we lost our starting safety early in the game. I’m not surprised they did it that way.”
Louisiana scored on essentially every possession with six touchdowns and two field goals. It only failed to score on the final possessions of each half – a one-play possession in the second quarter and the game’s final possession, which ended at Coastal’s 6 as time expired.
“It’s a unique situation but we had a good plan and the players executed that plan,” said Louisiana coach Billy Napier, referring to the teams having just four days between games. “We told them exactly what we wanted them to do and they were engaged. They came out ready to play.”