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UL linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill (2) celebrates a stop in the second half of the Cajuns' 31-30 win over ULM on Saturday at Cajun Field.

Some of it has been opportunity and some of it is just an inexperienced player growing up down the stretch.

But over the last two games of the regular season, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill has displayed the kind of potential that just may serve the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense well in the future.

McCaskill had seven tackles in the win over Troy and then followed that with 10 more tackles, including a sack, in Saturday’s 31-30 win over ULM to get

to 10-2 on the season heading into Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference championship game at Appalachian State.

“I think we’ve seen Lorenzo really grow this season,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “He’s a young player. You’ve got to remember he only played four games last year. He’s a guy that’s kind of a rookie, with limited exposure last year, really when he played he didn’t play a lot. I consider him kind of a rookie. It’s like he redshirted.”

For the season, McCaskill is now the second-leading tackler on the team with 45.

“As he gets more experience and he gets more serious about becoming a student of the game, that’s what you’ve seen from him,” Napier said. “He’s really dived into his football IQ, his communication, his knowledge of the big picture. I think you’re seeing a guys who’s learning the game and has benefited coach (Ron) Roberts and coach (Mike) Guiliani there. He’s learning the game, and therefore he’s processing quicker. He’s anticipating better and he’s being more productive.”

Smoother travel plans

Coaches are typically creatures of habit and slaves to routine.

Usually, the Cajuns leave town on Friday for a Saturday road game during the regular season.

For Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference championship game in Boone, N.C., the plan is to leave Lafayette on Thursday in preparation for the 11 a.m. Saturday showdown with Appalachian State.

“From a logistical standpoint, with the travel, Lafayette to Boone, if we were to do it on Friday we’re talking about waking our team up at 4:30 in the morning, which is just not feasible,” Napier said. “It’s not necessarily going to be that way if you play somewhere else. It just happens to be the travel time of flights, the drive and all that.”

Overall, Napier is hoping last year’s experience will make this year’s trip much easier.

“We’re fortunate, you have to plan for these things,” Napier said. “We went through it last year and it was a logistical nightmare. We’ve done this before, this thing’s mapped out by the minute. (Football operations director) Troy Wingerter has done a terrific job, and we won’t be spending time on that this week. We’ll be focused on the game.

“We’re fortunate that we have administration and investors that are willing to do that for us. Certainly we’re thankful for that and it’ll benefit our team.”

Barnburner practice

Obviously, the most unique aspect of UL’s 31-30 win over ULM on Saturday was it produced the program’s first 10-win season.

Secondly, however, it was the first Cajuns’ game all season that went down to the wire to be decided. UL’s nine other wins — and all 11 games — were decided by double figures.

Surviving the nailbiter against the Warhawks, though, now gives this Cajuns team experience in a close game.

“Yes, I think there’s something to be said for in a rivalry game finding a way to work well together as a team,” Napier said. “We certainly did that.”

Indeed, with the pressure on trailing 30-28, the Cajuns drove 62 yards on 15 plays in 6:35 to kick a Stevie Artigue 27-yard field goal with 1:21 left for the eventual game winner.

“That possession was a good example of our football team,” Napier said. “We found a way. There were different opportunities in that possession to make some plays. Certainly (quarterback) Levi’s (Lewis) ability to make a play with his feet. You’ve got to give the kid credit. He is at his best when it matters the most.”

Injury update

The early-week injury news sounds better for the Cajuns than it looked Saturday against the Warhawks.

On the bad side, Napier said both wide receiver Jamal Bell and offensive tackle Robert Hunt are doubtful to play Saturday against Appalachian State.

On the good side, safety Percy Butler, linebacker Ferrod Gardner and defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill are both expected back. Also, linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill is “fine” after leaving with an injury Saturday.

“I think we were more depleted Saturday than we’ve been at any point this year, in particular on defense,” Napier said. “Hey, that’s why it’s a team game, next man up. I think it’s great opportunities. There were great opportunities for guys in that game Saturday and certainly a lot of those guys stepped up and did their job for the team.

“We always view it that way. We have lots of players on this team that work really, really hard, injuries are a part of the game and they create opportunities for other players.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.