LAFAYETTE — The Ragin’ Cajuns have put together a nice three-game winning streak, and if they had it their way, they’d be able to extend that streak to four against a team they feel they owe something to after last year.
South Alabama ended the Cajuns’ chances at winning the Sun Belt Conference outright and also ended their hope of putting together the first 10-win season in school history. Of course, the Cajuns didn’t have the services of starting quarterback Terrance Broadway for that game, a 30-8 loss Dec. 7 in Mobile.
The Jaguars have won four straight, though all four wins came against the bottom tier of the SBC. The Cajuns, winners of three straight, have started to find a rhythm against some of the conferences better teams. One streak will end this Saturday.
Here’s a quick preview of the matchup:
Reason to worry
Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth called South Alabama quarterback Brandon Bridge an NFL prospect, and he thinks the Panthers receivers are one of the better groups his defense will see this season.
Reason not to worry
As much ability as Bridge may have throwing the ball — and he has plenty of arm strength — he still has left much to be desired. In his past two games, against SBC also-rans Georgia State and Troy, he has only completed 20 of 53 attempts (37.7 percent).
After nearly topping 1,000 yards through the air and averaging 18.8 yards per catch a year ago, wide receiver Shavarez Smith has taken a bit of a step back. He’s only averaging about 60 receiving yards per game, and he hasn’t delivered any notable games outside of a monster 133-yard, two-touchdown outing against Appalachian State.
But that doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there. Smith is still in the SBC’s top five in yards per catch (15.2) and touchdown receptions (six), and if Bridge gets more consistent, it likely will lead to more production from the 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior.
The good news for UL-Lafayette fans is that the Cajuns defense stymied Smith’s big-play ability last season, limiting him to three catches for 40 yards.
Senior defensive lineman Theo Rich is one of the conference’s better pass-rushers. His seven sacks rank second in the SBC behind Texas State’s Michael Odiari’s 7.5.
While half of that total came against Georgia State, when he sacked Nick Arbuckle 3.5 times, Rich has gotten to the quarterback for at least a share of a sack in five of the Panthers’ seven games this season.
Senior safety Terrell Brigham is the leader of the Jaguars secondary, and he makes plays all over the field. He’s the team leader in tackles (54), and he’s also responsible for seven broken-up passes, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
If the Jaguars find a way to stop the Cajuns’ potent ground game — and that’s a big if — the South Alabama secondary could become a factor. While they haven’t accounted for a ton of turnovers, they have broken up an SBC-best 34 passes.
Last time they met
By beating the Cajuns 30-8 to close the 2013 regular season, the Jaguars denied the Cajuns an outright claim for the SBC title and a chance to set a school record for wins. Hudspeth said last week that his team wasn’t thinking about that at all this week, but the players were quick to differ. They remember.
The Jaguars enter the game with the SBC’s best scoring defense: They’re giving up just 21 points per game. Of course, last week Arkansas State had that distinction before the Cajuns dropped 55 points and more than 400 rushing yards on the Red Wolves. … One reason the Jaguars defense has been fairly stingy? It hasn’t given up many big plays. The Cajuns gave up three plays of 60 yards or more last week. South Alabama hasn’t allowed that many this season.