The tall task of slowing down the Sun Belt’s top passing attacking is something Louisiana-Lafayette defensive back Tracy Walker cannot wait to take on.
“We can't back down, or we're going to lose; it's up to the secondary this week.” Walker said. “We've got to understand who we're playing against, more of the personnel, understand what our job is. We've just got to play together.”
Saturday’s 4 p.m. kickoff against New Mexico State begins the Ragin' Cajuns' final quarter of the season, and it boils down to something simple for Walker and his teammates: If the Cajuns win two of their final three games, then a bowl awaits. If not, the season is over.
The Cajuns can take a huge step towards securing a bowl bid if they can contain the Aggies' gun-slinging quarterback, Tyler Rogers. That's a task that has proven elusive in the past two seasons, as NMSU brings a two-game series winning streak to Cajun Field. In each contest, the Cajun surrendered 37 points to the high-flying Aggies.
“Tyler Rogers is a great quarterback; he goes through his progressions and knows where to go with the ball pre-snap," Walker said. “He's going to be a huge challenge this week, and our secondary has to step up to that challenge.”
Rogers, a fifth-year senior, leads the nation with 29.11 completions per game, and his 23 passing touchdowns rank 13th.
Rogers’ ability to spread the ball around is what makes him and the Aggies offense so dangerous. Receiver Jaleel Scott leads the team with 52 receptions and 8 touchdowns, but three other Aggies have caught 25 or more passes, including tailback Larry Rose III.
Having so many weapons to worry about has undoubtedly kept the Cajuns coaching staff up at night, but Walker, whom ULL head coach Mark Hudspeth describes as a coach on the field, said if the Cajuns can play assignment football, they will be in good shape to slow down the Aggies.
“We have to execute; that's the main thing," said Walker, the Cajuns' third-leading tackler. "On Saturday we have to execute our X's and O's; we can't just go out there and throw our playbook and expect that it will work. It all boils down to us playing assignment football and everybody doing their one job.”
Assignment football is something that has eluded the Cajuns at times this year.
“We gave up a lot of plays," Walker said. "For people to take the wrong gap or missing tackles, that's on us; that's not on the opponent.”
Still, if the Cajuns can get that taken care of Walker feels good about Saturday, no matter what position he's asked to play.
Recruited as a cornerback but transitioned to safety early in his UL-Lafayette career, Walker found himself back outside last week at Ole Miss. That's a move he was more than willing to make because the coaching staff felt it gave the team the best chance to win.
“Ole Miss has a great receiving core, and it was different,” Walker said. “It was a huge adjustment going from safety to corner. I had a few miscues, but I got better.”
Walker is expected to move back to safety this week, but regardless of where he’s playing, he is excited about returning home and playing in front of a rowdy Cajun Field crowd.
“It's going to be a great opportunity to get a win and be back in front of the Cajun fans," he said. "This is our first bowl week; we're calling it the New Mexico State Bowl. Every game is a bowl, (and) we're going to approach every game as a must-win.”