UL-Lafayette will have some new faces seeing action Saturday when the Ragin’ Cajuns host South Alabama, and it won’t hurt anybody's eligibility status.
The Cajuns, who wrap up their home schedule against the Jaguars at 4 p.m. Saturday, will take advantage of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule and will have at least two participants that have yet to see the field.
Tight end Chase Rogers, a third-team all-Sun Belt Conference pick as a true freshman last year, and true freshman running back/return specialist Chris Smith will definitely play, Cajuns coach Billy Napier said.
“Chase has done really well the last couple of weeks,” Napier said of Rogers, who had two off-season foot surgeries. “The non-contact came off and he’s pain free, just the typical soreness from getting back into that volume of work. He’ll be ready to play Saturday. Chris is a guy we really want to look at and he’s going to play the last four.”
The Cajuns have a maximum of four games remaining — regular-season games against USA and UL-Monroe; the Sun Belt championship game if they win those two; and a potential bowl game. UL-Lafayette (5-5, 3-3) becomes eligible for a bowl with a win Saturday and would assure itself of a bowl bid with a win at ULM the following week.
The NCAA Division I Council approved a proposal last June that lets players participate in as many as four games without losing their redshirt season. Since Rogers played as a true freshman last year and Smith is in his first collegiate year, both can play in all of the remaining games without burning a year of eligibility.
Napier said two walk-on players from Lafayette, offensive lineman Caden Cunningham of Acadiana High and tight end Chris Turner of Lafayette High, fall into the same category and could see action in the final four games.
Some other Cajuns are in limbo with the new rule, including senior wide receiver Keenan Barnes and sophomore safety Bralen Trahan. Barnes, who had more career catches than any Cajun (68 for 957 yards and eight TDs) entering the season, has played in only four games with a nagging knee injury. Trahan has played in three games this season after playing all 11 as a true freshman last year. Both have a redshirt year available.
Two Cajuns who definitely won’t play in the final stretch are junior defensive end Joe Dillon, who is recovering from hip surgery, and senior kicker Stevie Artigue, the fourth-leading kicker in program history who had ACL knee surgery. Dillon, who redshirted in 2015, will apply for a medical redshirt. Artigue has not yet redshirted.
The Cajuns will have a group of 26 seniors honored in Saturday’s Senior Day activities, but a couple of those could return for a final year of eligibility in 2019.
“We have all kinds of different scenarios,” Napier said, “but mostly we want to send the seniors out the right way. They’ve been through the good and the bad and seen the ups and downs of this program, and they were very receptive to us coming in the door. I want to send them out the right way and I think our football team feels the same way.”
Sophomore running back Trey Ragas, the second-leading rusher in the Sun Belt, and freshman cornerback Eric Garror, the squad leader in interceptions, are both expected to play Saturday after modified practices this week.
Ragas aggravated a lower leg injury in the first half against Georgia State and Garror missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Sophomore backup safety Blair Brooks (hamstring) should also return.
Napier said Wednesday that senior defensive lineman and Ole Miss transfer Garrald McDowell will miss his second straight game with a serious bruise from the Troy game, and nickelback Terik Miller will miss Saturday with a knee injury. Miller is fourth on the squad in tackles with 38 and McDowell is fifth with 36.
Win and advance
Napier said that Cajuns men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin visited his office Wednesday, and the two talked about the team’s current “playoff mode.”
“We were talking how it’s a little bit like the NCAA basketball tournament,” Napier said. “It’s about who’s playing the best football at the end of the year.”
Marlin’s team is 1-1 heading into a Friday road game at No. 2 Kansas.