It’s not the opportunity UL’s football program has been waiting for since they walked off the field after the Sun Belt Conference championship game loss in Boone, North Carolina, last December.
But Saturday’s 4 p.m. showdown with the high-flying Troy Trojans at Cajun Field certainly puts the 2019 Ragin’ Cajuns in position to revisit that moment of truth.
A win clinches a return trip to the Sun Belt’s title game at 11 a.m. Dec. 7 as the West Division champions at site to be determined.
“This is a very big moment for us,” said senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner, who said he recently addressed the team with the advice of cherishing the moment and taking advantage of the opportunity.
“For a moment like this, it’ll be monumental for the rest of your life.”
Like most coaches, UL coach Billy Napier wants his Cajuns (8-2, 5-1) focused, thinking big but not losing sight on the details required to achieve their lofty goals.
“I think we’re all aware of that (win clinches West),” Napier said. “We’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks now that we control our own destiny, and this Saturday will be no different. We need to go out here and play our best football game. Each one of these games is an individual deal — a different mission, there’s different matchups, different personnel, different concepts, different locations.
“I think you have to do a good job of really zeroing in on what are going to be the important things for this week, fundamentally, conceptually, match-up wise, making sure we’re in the right frame of mind and we’re ready to play. Every week is a little bit of a different challenge. I know one thing, we’re excited to be back home. We played Troy last year and we have a ton of respect for that program and this group of players.”
Preparation may be more important than ever with the explosive Trojans (5-5, 3-3) in town.
When defensive back Brenndan Johnson made the decision to make a graduate transfer from Texas-San Antonio to the UL Ragin’ Cajuns, he didn’t k…
Troy’s offense — led by quarterback Kaleb Barker — is averaging 39 points a game.
From 50% third-down conversion rates to 100% red-zone efficiency in November to 3,152 yards passing in 10 games, Troy’s offense is on pace to break numerous school and Sun Belt records.
“I think that this passing attack and this group of skill players is one of the best we’ve faced, that to go along with the quarterback and a veteran offensive line,” Napier said. “You don’t just score like they’ve been scoring if you don’t have good players at all positions which I think they do. I don’t know that we’ve faced anybody quite like this since we’ve been here.
“They’re the top scoring offense in our league and one of the tops in the country, so it’s a good group of players and certainly they’re starting to have more and more of a feel for what they’re doing, which I think coach (Chip) Lindsey has done a terrific job with.”
One of the primary strengths of the Cajuns’ defense, which has only allowed 18.1 points per game this season, is the depth at virtually every position, but especially in the secondary.
With the loss of redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill for Saturday’s key Sun Belt contest against Troy, a larger burden falls on a …
“No doubt this is a matchup game all the way,” Napier said. “These guys do a good job of mixing it up, but very much like Arkansas State there’s going to be some big time matchups outside, even in the slot. They’ve got some matchup issues there, they play four wides probably 40% of the time, so there’s going to be a number of things here where there’s going to be individual matchups that will be critical in the game for sure.”
A year ago, Troy defeated the Cajuns 26-16.
“We’re a closer-knit group than we were last year,” Gardner said. “I think that’s going to show up on the field. Last year, certain aspects of the game we didn’t execute like we needed to. This year, we’ve worked on our communication and our bond is growing a lot. I think that’s definitely going to help us this year against Troy.”
UL’s biggest challenge will be replacing redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill, whose quickness will be missed against Troy’s offense.
Consequently, the less-seasoned defensive linemen will need to step up.
It was a huge part of the preseason excitement surrounding the 2019 Ragin’ Cajuns
“It’s a critical time of year and certainly their role is going to increase,” Napier said. “We get (linebacker Kris) Monrcrief back. He sat out the second half of the game. I think the big thing is, if you watch us play, it’s a nickel type of game these days. We play with two inside guys already for the most part if you count (Chauncey) Manac and Andre (Jones) as edge players, so (defensive lineman) Bennie’s (Higgins) role will continue to be the same.”
The primary way to counteract Troy’s potent passing game is UL’s running game being at full strength. Banged up in recent weeks, power runner Trey Ragas showed signs last week at South Alabama that he’s closer to be back to form.
“I think Trey’s fine, man, he’s ready to go,” Napier said. “Certainly every week that he goes without having a setback or getting reinjured is good for him, and hopefully we can get him back and he can be the Trey Ragas that we all know.”