Luke Johnson: Cajuns’ toughness keeps them afloat; winning record just a win away _lowres

Advocate photo by Brad Kemp Louisiana-Lafayette running back Montrel Carter dives for the ball in the end zone for a touc down after a blocked punt against Georgia State on Saturday.

Coming up

Like the Cajuns, this week’s opponent, South Alabama, has been inconsistent through the first two-thirds of the regular season, but can get back over .500 with a win Thursday. The Jaguars have a balanced offensive attack that has scored 30 or more four times, but has also been held to 18 or fewer three times. South Alabama’s biggest issue has been on the defense, where it’s allowing 38.6 points per game. But making matters more difficult for the Cajuns is the fact that they’re playing back-to-back road games in a span of five days. They tried taking some measures last week to keep their players fresh by cutting back on practice times and workouts.

Looking back

For the second straight week, a staunch second-half defensive effort combined with standout play on special teams earned the Cajuns a win when their offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Georgia State gained just 28 yards in the fourth quarter, missed two field goals and went for an ill-timed fake punt that set the Cajuns up with a short field. Meanwhile, the Cajuns special teams accounted for 17 of their 23 points. Brooks Haack earned the start at quarterback and turned in a serviceable effort (18-of-25, 162 yards and a score), but the Cajuns are longing for the explosiveness of recent years on offense.

Saturday’s star

Dominique Tovell turned in his third multiple-sack day of the season against Georgia State, sacking quarterback Nick Arbuckle twice. The last sack was crucial. Trailing by two with six minutes left in the contest, the Panthers were facing a third-and-10, a down and distance they improbably converted multiple times in the game. But Tovell burst through the line and dropped Arbuckle for a loss, setting up a punt that freshman Gary Haynes returned 49 yards deep into Georgia State territory. Tovell has four sacks in his past two games and now leads the Sun Belt Conference with seven sacks on the year.

Keep an eye on

What’s going on with Elijah McGuire? The Cajuns star running back turned in his third straight pedestrian effort, as he was held to 73 yards on 21 carries against a Georgia State defense that hadn’t done a great job against the run this season. In those past three games, McGuire has totaled just 164 yards on 53 carries, a 3.1 yards per carry average. Sooner or later, the Cajuns have to devise a way to get him room to run if they want to make a run at a conference title.

Worth repeating

“It was planned all week long. We knew we were going to come after the first one. We felt like we had a pretty good plan in place, and boy, it worked to perfection. The thing it allowed us to do was get a quick start. We tried to address that, coming out with a quick start and getting some momentum early.” — Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth on the all-out punt block the Cajuns called in the first quarter against Georgia State. Travis Crawford blocked Wil Lutz’s punt, and Montrel Carter recovered it in the end zone to give the Cajuns a 10-0 lead.