The UL defensive front was instrumental during the program's first win over Appalachian State last season.
The Ragin' Cajuns hope to apply the same brand of relentless pressure in Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. home game at Cajun Field.
“Anytime you’re facing a really good passer, it’s important to affect the guy,” UL coach Billy Napier said.
Transfer quarterback Chase Brice has surpassed expectations so far this season, completing 104 of 153 passes for 1,360 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Certainly I think that will be really important when you look at the efficiency at which they’re passing the ball,” Napier said. “Their guys do a nice job of getting open, they’ve got well-designed concepts and their quarterback has been extremely accurate — not only short and intermediate but deep.”
The strange portion of the UL football schedule has arrived.
In last year’s win in the monsoon in Boone, N.C., the defensive line dominated. Andre Jones had seven tackles, as well as a stop behind the line and half a sack. Tayland Humphrey had seven tackles. It was likely Chauncey Manac’s best game as a Cajun with six tackles, with two behind the line, a sack and an interception. Zi’Yon Hill added five stops, with one behind the line, a sack and a fumble recovery.
“There’s a big laundry list of things you can do to affect the quarterback, whether that’s winning individual matchups on the edge, whether that’s pushing the pocket, whether that’s tipping the ball or whether that’s playing really good coverage and making the guy hold the ball … pressuring and making sure those pressures are well-designed,” Napier said.
The tough part is Appalachian State has allowed only five sacks all season.
Gillie stands out
When news broke that UL starting left tackle Carlos Rubio was lost for the season, there wasn’t a huge mystery about what would happen next.
As expected, Ken Marks moved from left guard to left tackle, and freshman AJ Gillie returned to left guard. That's what the staff did when Rubio went down earlier this season.
The question that remained was whether it would work better this time around. The answer was emphatic as UL rushed for 225 yards against South Alabama at a 6.8-yard clip, and Gillie did his part to foster that success.
“I thought by far the best performance of his career so far,” Napier said of Gillie. “AJ's going to be a heck of a player here. He’s just relatively inexperienced, but he stepped up for our team and we’re going to need more players doing that going forward.”
The unit was recognized as the Pro Football Focus college offensive line of the week for the second time this season.
“Those guys did a terrific job,” Napier said. “We challenged them. We knew South Alabama had a really good run defense, a good front seven. I thought we answered that challenge.”
Five games into the season, the Ragin' Cajuns are fretting about their kicking game.
Reserve kicker Nate Snyder missed two field goals and an extra point in UL’s 20-18 victory over South Alabama last Saturday.
Not only did the staff create an open competition with freshman Logan Klotz this week, but the coaches sought advice outside the program to help Snyder.
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns are 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference play with two road wins, but that only begins to tell the story.
“It’s definitely an area on our team that we need to address, whether that’s fundamental improvement by Nate or another player outperforming him,” Napier said. “Whatever the case may be.”
Starting kicker Kenny Almendares has been ruled out for the season with an injury, leaving the job for Snyder.
“We did quite a bit of research,” Napier said. “We sent the video off to a number of friends in the profession for some feedback for him from some of the better special teams guys in the country. We’re going to do everything we can do to position the team to have success.”
UL’s home game Tuesday against Appalachian State has a prime spot with a ESPN2 national broadcast on a nontraditional football night.
The debate will rage on about whether being on national television is worth sacrificing the fans lost at the stadium by playing a midweek game, as well as the Saturday game-day atmosphere that can’t be duplicated on a Tuesday.
The UL players and coaches are too focused on the game to weigh in on the debate.
“We push the fans to come and we push the students to come, but in all reality, it’s us and us,” UL left tackle Ken Marks said. “We go out there and play for each other. If there are fans out there to watch it, then we appreciate them. We’re in the locker room, we’re with the coaches, we’re the ones doing practice, so that’s all on us. It doesn’t add another element to the game.”