With its back squarely against the wall this week, and coming off a disheartening loss that put its postseason hopes in jeopardy, the lingering question for Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team still goes unanswered.
It figures to be the biggest topic of conversation as the Ragin’ Cajuns travel for a do-or-die Saturday game at Appalachian State: who will be at quarterback?
Jordan Davis came in a relief role for the second time this season on Saturday in UL-Lafayette’s 34-24 loss to Georgia Southern — after he’d been pulled twice earlier this year — and had some measure of second-half success in replacing true freshman starter Levi Lewis. Lewis had been ineffective in his first three series when the Cajuns (5-6, 4-3) didn’t manage a first down, and threw his first interception of the season late in the first quarter on his final play.
“He didn’t come out playing well, was scrambling around too much,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We had those first four or five possessions that we did nothing. We basically shot ourselves in the foot early.”
Lewis was only 1 of 4 passing for 5 yards, and the interception by GSU’s Monquavion Brinson set up Tyler Bass’ 42-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. That gave the touchdown-underdog Eagles a 17-0 lead.
“We had three three-and-outs, we were down 17 and we had to make a change,” Hudsepth said.
Davis did throw for 225 yards and two scores in the final three quarters, but he also had two interceptions.
“I thought Jordan did a nice job, made some nice throws,” Hudspeth said. “But you lose the turnover battle 3-0, I don’t know if you can win against a team that can control the football and milk the clock.”
Georgia Southern, which lost its first nine but has won two straight Sun Belt games by a combined 62-point margin, ran for a season-high 389 yards and has rushed for 745 yards in its past two games. The Eagles’ four touchdown drives went 75, 73, 67 and 78 yards, and the last two included zero passing yardage.
“We didn’t play assignment football,” said senior safety Tracy Walker, who finished with a game-high 14 tackles. “We had a lot of guys out of gaps and being out of position. With the option, you have to do your assignment every play. We weren’t doing that, and it cost us.”
The early offensive struggles didn’t help a defense that was on the field for 40:02 out of 60 minutes. The Cajuns had two first downs at halftime, and other than Darius Hoggins’ tackle-breaking 75-yard run and a 42-yard pass from Davis to Ryheem Malone, UL-Lafayette’s offensive output in the first half was 17 yards.
The quarterback starter wasn’t announced before the game, but Hudspeth said the decision was made to start Lewis early in the week.
“That’s the plan we were going to do the rest of the year,” he said of Lewis, who made his first appearance since an ankle injury against Ole Miss two weeks ago. “We were going to give him the start moving forward.”
Hudspeth was noncommittal about who would get the call in Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. regular-season finale against the Mountaineers, who will be playing for a share of the Sun Belt Conference title.
“No matter who you’re playing, 24 points is not enough to win in this conference,” he said. “We have to go with the quarterback who can put the most points on the board.”
Davis, who threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 71 yards and a third score in the previous week’s 47-34 win over New Mexico State, was asked about his status after Saturday’s game.
“It’s a tough situation to be put in,” he said. “I can only control what I can control. It’s hard coming in down 17, but your job as a quarterback is to win games and get the offense going and score every time. I could have run and thrown it better. … There’s a lot we could have done better.”
When asked if he’d done enough to return to a starting role, the junior said, “I don’t know. That’s not a question for me. I just know it would mean a lot to the seniors to get to a bowl, and to us as a team.”
Through Saturday’s games, there are 79 bowl-eligible teams to fill 78 bowl slots, and there are three other teams that can get to six wins this week — Florida State with a home win over Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State with a home win over South Alabama and the Cajuns at Appalachian State.
The Sun Belt has five automatic bowl tie-ins and four teams currently bowl eligible — Troy, Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Georgia State. The Cajuns and NMSU could fill the league’s fifth bowl spot, and if both win, one of those teams would likely go into the “at-large” pool and hope for a bowl invitation.
At least two leagues will likely not fill their bowl tie-ins. The SEC will be one short unless no teams reach the College Football Playoff and would be two short if two teams get into the CFP. The Big Ten will be at least one team short, and two short if a league team reaches the CFP. The ACC will fill its final spot if Florida State beats UL-Monroe and will have an extra team if it does not put a team into the CFP.
The new Frisco Bowl already has one at-large spot, and there could be as many as four other at-large spots for teams from other conferences.
Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said late Saturday night that he was confident about getting a sixth team into bowl play should UL-Lafayette and New Mexico State win this weekend, citing geography and the Cajuns being more attractive to a Southern-based mid-level bowl than some other bowl-eligible teams.