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UL running back Trey Ragas is hoping to better the 49 yards he posted in last year's 56-10 loss to Mississippi State.

INSIDE THE GAME

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

The Cajuns try to better last year’s showing in a 56-10 loss to the Bulldogs in Starkville. UL continues its decades-long search for the program’s first win over an SEC opponent. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is hoping to show it can overcome the three-run NCAA probation handed down two weeks ago, including the suspension of 10 unnamed players due to academic fraud.

KEY MATCHUP

The Cajuns’ offensive line vs. Mississippi State’s defensive line. A year ago, UL’s powerful rushing attack was stymied against the Bulldogs’ front wall. The Cajuns only rushed for 65 yards on 26 carries (2.5 yards a pop), as well as yielding two sacks. With the dynamic backfield, it’s going to be critical for the line to help establish a running game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

CAJUNS: UL’s running backs Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais combined for 2,290 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, as well as a total of 14 100-yard rushing performances. The trio also accounted for 51 receptions, 647 yards and five touchdowns.

MSU: With a new quarterback making his first start as a graduate transfer, the Bulldogs may lean on junior running back Kylin Hill early on Saturday. Hill was a force for the offense last year with 734 yards and four touchdowns on 117 carries, while also catching 22 passes for 176 yards and four more scores.

FACTS & FIGURES

UL senior receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley has 10 touchdowns receiving last season, which is the most since Brandon Stokley did so way back in 1996. … The Bulldogs return four starters on defense and seven on offense, while the Cajuns have five new starters on offense and only two new starters on defense. … The Bulldogs’ offensive line has a combined total of 71 starts returning, while UL’s offensive line has 130 total starts back. … MSU is 6-2 all-time in the Superdome.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

17 – The Cajuns have lost 17 straight openers away from Cajun Field. But ironically, the last time UL won a season opener outside of Lafayette was a 48-6 win over Tulane in the Superdome back in 1990.

9 – Number of Cajuns on the roster playing either high school or junior college ball in Mississippi.

16 – Number of consecutive games Mississippi State’s defense has forced at least one turnover.

FOUR DOWNS

1 – Good Start

The Cajuns are hoping to make it three straight season-opening wins. The last time UL won two straight season openers prior to 2017-18 was in 1979-80. The last time for three in a row was 1975-77.

2 – Welcome back

The Cajuns get two former contributors back Saturday in junior linebacker Joe Dillon and senior kicker Stevie Artigue. Dillon had 81 tackles and 11.5 sacks before his hip injury, while Artigue was 29-for-38 on field goals prior to his injury.

3 – Turnovers

The Cajuns were minus-2 in turnovers in coach Billy Napier’s first season. It’s been a perennial problem for UL in recent years. Not since 2003 has UL enjoyed better than a plus-three in turnover ratio.

4 – Returning stars

The Bulldogs return All-SEC performers in linebacker Erroll Thompson, cornerback Cameron Dantzler and preseason All-American center Darryl Williams.

SCHEDULES

MISSISSIPPI STATE (0-0)

Aug. 31 Louisiana 11 a.m.

Sept. 7 Southern Miss 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 Kansas State 11 a.m.

Sept. 21 Kentucky TBA

Sept. 28 At Auburn TBA

Oct. 12 At Tennessee TBA

Oct. 19 LSU TBA

Oct. 26 At Texas A&M TBA

Nov. 2 At Arkansas TBA

Nov. 16 Alabama TBA

Nov. 23 Abilene Christian TBA

Nov. 28 Mississippi 6:30 p.m.

UL (0-0)

Aug. 31 Mississippi State 11 a.m.

Sept. 7 Liberty 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 Texas Southern 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 At Ohio TBA

Sept. 28 At Georgia Southern TBA

Oct. 9 Appalachian State 7 p.m.

Oct. 17 At Arkansas State 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 2 Texas State TBA

Nov. 7 At Coastal Carolina 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 16 At South Alabama TBA

Nov. 23 Troy TBA

Nov. 30 UL Monroe TBA

THE ADVOCATE SAYS …

Mississippi State 34, UL 20

There are plenty of unknowns in this matchup. Neither starting quarterback has ever started a season opener. The Bulldogs have 10 suspensions of unnamed players to deal with, in addition to absorbing the recent blow of NCAA probation. The Cajuns should be better on both sides of the ball than a year ago. The game doesn’t appear to be as unwinnable as this or the Alabama matchup last season. If UL’s defense can force turnovers and consistently get off the field on third down, it could be an interesting game into the second half.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.