TROY, Ala. — The Louisiana-Lafayette defense was carved up worse than a Thanksgiving turkey in the first half, but Troy had no room for second-half leftovers in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 42-23 regular-season finale win Saturday.
After giving up 342 yards of offense to an inspired Troy (3-9, 3-5) team in the first half Saturday, including 230 yards through the air, the Cajuns (8-4, 7-1) limited the Trojans to just 52 yards in the final 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Cajuns offense didn’t slow down. It outgained, out-manned and, most importantly, outscored Troy 21-0 in the second half to secure its fourth consecutive 8-4 finish in the regular season.
The game was won on adjustments — some of them based on the first half, some based on last week.
First, the Cajuns needed to establish their offense early in the second half. That’s something they were never quite able to do the week before against Appalachian State, when their offense dried up in the latter part of the game, yielding a 35-16 loss.
“I feel like we … left a lot of yards on the field last weekend,” senior running back Alonzo Harris said. “We ended up with only 99 yards, and that’s not us at all. I guess we had to go back to the basics.”
So the Cajuns went out to show who they were. Trailing 23-21 at halftime, they returned to the basics. The brutal and physical basics.
“Our word of the week was ‘dominate,’ and that’s what we did today,” Harris said.
Eighteen of the Cajuns’ 22 offensive plays in the third quarter came on the ground. They pummeled the Trojans for two sustained drives that ate up 161 yards and more than 11 minutes of game time.
They used misdirection to confuse the Trojans defenders, they used their speed to get the edge and they used their physicality to control the middle of the field. The Cajuns finished with 344 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Elijah McGuire and Harris combined for 255 yards and five touchdowns.
“When we’ve got both guys running like that, we’re going to be pretty effective,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said.
The Cajuns also looked at last week’s woeful performance both in the red zone and on third down and knew they needed to improve. After going an abysmal 3-of-15 on third down and scoring just one touchdown on three red-zone tries against Appalachian State, the Cajuns were 9-of-13 on third down Saturday and punched it in on all five red-zone opportunities.
But the defense figured to be the biggest challenge. The week before, Appalachian State did a better job of adjusting: The Mountaineers adjusted to the Cajuns’ adjustments. This time, the Cajuns would need to be on point.
They ditched the zone that Troy redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Silvers abused for 23 completions on 25 attempts in the first half.
“We started playing more man coverage because we figured our (defensive backs) could check their wide receivers,” senior defensive back Corey Trim said.
With the Cajuns playing tighter in the second half, Silvers struggled to come close to his previously ridiculous efficiency. The Cajuns limited him to 6 completions on 9 second-half attempts, sacking him twice.
The Trojans played with an emotional edge early. Larry Blakeney coached the final game of his 24-year Trojans career Saturday, and it was clear his team wanted to send him off the right way.
“Give Troy credit,” Hudspeth said. “They came out and played very inspired there in the first half. They wanted to play for Coach Blakeney, and they made some plays.”
The Trojans certainly did. Every time the Cajuns seemed to snuff Troy’s fire, the Trojans would respond right back.
The Cajuns forced and recovered a fumble on Troy’s opening drive, stopping a promising surge at the Cajuns 17, then went on a 13-play, 78-yard march that ended in a McGuire touchdown. Troy responded by going 72 yards in 13 plays.
The Cajuns stopped that Troy drive when Tre’maine Lightfoot burst through the hole to tackle Silvers for a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-goal from the 2. The Cajuns were stopped for a safety on the next play, and the Trojans took the lead six plays later on a 28-yard touchdown strike from Silvers to Bryan Holmes.
The Cajuns took over on a short field after a missed field goal and went 65 yards for a touchdown. The Trojans took the ensuing kick back 55 yards and went a shorter field for a touchdown.
McGuire took the next play 75 yards for a score. Troy got the ball back and milked most of the first half’s remaining clock on a seven play, 71-yard touchdown drive that ended with Silvers’ third touchdown pass of the day.
That’s a lot of fight coming from a team that came into the game with just three wins to its credit, but the Cajuns were ready to grind that fight away in the second half.