Despite getting slowed by Troy’s ball-hawking defense in the first half of last weekend’s 26-16 road loss, UL-Lafayette still enters Saturday’s pivotal home contest against Georgia State as one of the nation’s most opportunistic units.
The Ragin’ Cajuns rank fourth nationally in third-down conversions and fifth in in producing touchdowns on red-zone trips, and coach Billy Napier said continuing that success will be important in going up against the Panthers’ high-octane offense in Saturday’s 4 p.m. contest at Cajun Field.
“Offensively, we really came up short against Troy,” said Napier, whose team trailed 23-3 at halftime before rallying. “We weren’t able to overcome a slow start. We can’t do that against Georgia State because we’re going to have our hands full with their offensive group that’s scored at a pretty consistent rate.”
The visiting Panthers (2-7, 1-4) have already set a school record with 18 rushing touchdowns, and rank third in the Sun Belt Conference in passing.
But UL-Lafayette’s offensive production has been even more impressive, especially on third down and in the red zone. The Cajuns (4-5, 2-3) are converting third downs at a 50.4 percent rate, trailing only Alabama (56.3), Boise State (55.7) and Army (53.3) nationally, and are one of only four FBS teams converting more than 50 percent of the time on third down.
The Cajuns have also scored touchdowns on 80 percent (24 of 30) of their trips inside opposing 20-yard lines. The only teams nationally with better numbers are Navy (21-25, 84.0), Memphis (28-34, 82.4), Penn State and UCF (both 30-37, 81.1).
“You can see the improvement they’ve made on offense,” said Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott, “and that all starts with our defensive line against their offensive line. We have to contain a lot of things.”
Napier said the heavy rainfall that deluged the Acadiana area over the past two days hasn’t been an issue for his team, thanks to the availability of the Moncla Indoor Practice Facility where the squad did most of its entire Tuesday and Wednesday practices.
“We practice on the turf all the time anyway, so we have no issues there,” said Napier, whose team has also made frequent use of the artificial surface at Cajun Field. “I don’t know if we’ve been outside on the grass much the whole year.”
Senior defensive end Garrald McDowell, the Cajuns’ fourth-leading tackler this season and the leader in tackles on the defensive front, will miss Saturday’s game against the Panthers with an undisclosed injury suffered in last week’s 26-16 loss at Troy.
McDowell, a native of Covington and a graduate transfer from Ole Miss, has 36 tackles and a team-high four quarterback hurries this year.
“He’s going to be week-to-week,” Napier said. “We expect to have him back next week.”
McDowell’s loss comes after true freshman cornerback Eric Garror, the team leader in interceptions, was ruled out for the second straight week with a knee injury. The Cajuns expect to get linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill (ankle) for Saturday after he missed the Troy game.
Running back Elijah Mitchell, UL-Lafayette’s second-leading rusher with 565 yards and eight of the Cajuns’ 21 rushing touchdowns, will be a game-time decision after missing the Troy game with a neck injury suffered in practice.
The Wave is back
UL-Lafayette announced Wednesday a future home-and-home series with Tulane that includes games in the 2024 and 2027 season.
The Cajuns will host the Green Wave on Sept. 21, 2024 and return the visit to Tulane’s Yulman Stadium in the 2027 opener on Sept. 4. The teams have met 28 times including three in the past six seasons — a 41-13 Cajun win at Cajun Field in 2012, UL-Lafayette’s last-second 24-21 win over the Wave in the 2013 New Orleans Bowl in front of the largest crowd in that bowl’s history, and Tulane’s four-overtime 41-39 victory in 2016 at Yulman Stadium.
Georgia State is the nation’s third-least penalized team entering the weekend, with only 35 penalties in nine games. The Panthers have also given up only two interceptions in 277 pass attempts, ranking tied for third nationally … The Cajuns have won two in a row at Cajun Field with wins over New Mexico State and Arkansas State. They haven’t won three in a row at home within a season since 2009 when they beat Southern, Kansas State and North Texas … Running back and New Orleans native Trey Ragas has 24 rushes of 10 or more yards this year (24th nationally), has 100 yards on third-and-three or fewer yards to go (eighth nationally) and has seven red-zone touchdowns (25th nationally) … UL-Lafayette has nine kickoff returns of 30-plus yards, the third-most in the FBS.