Sometimes the hype is true.
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns possess a really good trio of running backs.
Certainly the visiting Liberty Flames heard about that all week long in preparation for Saturday’s showdown at Cajun Field.
It was no myth. UL’s running game was in rare form Saturday, exploding for 407 yards in lifting the Cajuns to a convincing 35-14 victory over Liberty.
“Great win for our team,” UL coach Billy Napier said.
“Offensively, almost 600 yards of offense. We had a couple turnovers that you need to clean up. When you rush the ball for over 400 yards and have several running backs close to 100, if not over, you’ve got to be happy about that.”
Trey Ragas led the dynamic rushing effort with 129 yards and a touchdown, powered by a 75-yard touchdown run.
“I want to give credit to the O-line,” Ragas said. “They made holes for us and the receivers because they block downfield. They made it easy for us to run the ball.
“We just had to represent our (running backs) room, because last week, we didn’t play to our best. Coach (Jabbar) Juluke had motivated us to make sure that we make a big statement in this game. We just came out with a chip on our shoulder and came to prove ourselves.”
Ragas was especially proud of his 75-yard run.
“The team sees me do it at practice,” he said. “They were surprised to see me do it in a game. When I got to the sidelines, they said, 'I can’t believe it. You were pretty fast.’ ”
Raymond Calais shined as well with 111 yards, led by a 68-yard run.
“Tonight was a great night for the whole offense,” Calais said. “The O-line blocked well and the receivers played well. Everybody did their jobs. When we’re all clicking and (quarterback) Levi (Lewis) gets us the ball, we can be a pretty good team. The running backs had another really good night. We just have to build on it.”
Elijah Mitchell, meanwhile, pitched in 74 yards on 15 carries. And for good measure, freshman Chris Smith added 50 yards on five carries.
As a team, UL ran for 407 total yards on 46 tries for 8.8 yards per carry. Not only was the running game effective, but it was also explosive with runs of 31, 68, 75, 36 and 26 yards.
And in many ways, that total of 407 yards is a bit deceiving. The offense had 298 rushing yards at the half.
“That’s who we are,” Napier said of the running game. “I think we’ve got to find a way to throw it more consistently down the field. We did a good job on conversion downs.
“When you rush the ball like that, you’re going to be hard to beat. We just have to eliminate some of these other issues we have.”
The Cajuns made it 11 wins in the past 12 home openers thanks to a solid performance by the defense as well.
The passing game may not have been as explosive, but it was still a big help. Lewis was 15-of-23 passing for 179 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Of course, a big part of those passing totals was because of senior receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley with six receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
“Simply put, I think Ja’Marcus is going to play in the National Football League,” Napier said. “I’ve coached some great receivers in my day. This guy is up there with the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. Really, a high school quarterback who is a self-made receiver.
“To see his game become more and more detailed, it’s fun to watch, man. I’m proud of him. He’s a product of his work. That’s what he is.”
A big key for the offense in Saturday’s win was being able to put together touchdown drives on each side of halftime. An eight-play, 84-yard drive with 1:36 left gave UL a 21-14 halftime edge.
Lewis hit Bradley three times on the drive for 24 yards, including the 2-yard TD toss to end it. Calais had three carries for 36 yards on the drive.
“Every Thursday, we work two-minute in practice and I usually always do it, so I was pretty comfortable doing it,” Calais said. “Yes, that was a huge thing to accomplish. Anytime you can do something like that, and being that we were getting the ball first in the second half the momentum was going our way, so that was huge.”
Indeed, UL then began the second half with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive culminated by Bradley breaking several tackles and marching 58 yards for the score.
“We’ve got some explosive skill players,” Napier said. “When we execute well and get the ball to the second level, or we throw it in situations where we get one-on-ones, we’ve got some guys who can make some plays.”