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UL safety Bralen Trahan (24), shown here celebrating a interception with teammates Joe Dillon (3) and Jacques Boudreaux (59) during the Cajuns' 31-30 win over ULM, is configent the defense will show improvement from a late-season slump in Monday's LendingTree Bowl.

MOBILE, Ala. — UL’s defense has gotten a month of rest since struggling in the 45-38 Sun Belt Conference championship game loss at Appalachian State on Dec. 7.

And it sounds like defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ crew is going to need that rest as it prepares to meet a physical Miami of Ohio offense in the Lendingtree Bowl 6:30 p.m. Monday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

“They’re physical,” defensive back Deuce Wallace said. “They’re big, bigger than probably any team we’ve played this year. They have tight ends at least 6-foot-6 — I know they’ve got two of them that are that big for sure. Running backs run very hard and they have a big O-line.”

Entering November, that might not have sounded like a challenge. But since UL’s last trip to Mobile on Nov. 16, things began to change for the Cajuns’ defense.

Going into that game, UL’s defense was only allowed 146 yards a game on the ground.

South Alabama rushed for 351 yards that night and ULM followed with 240 yards rushing and the Mountaineers 267 more in UL’s last game.

“Sometimes we just weren’t gapped out,” linebacker Jacques Boudreaux said of that subpar finish.

Senior cornerback Michael Jacquet said rest will help much of that.

“Most definitely,” he said. “We were banged up toward the end of the year, a lot of nicks and injuries. We were going so hard.

“I definitely think this time off has really helped get our legs back under us or people who had injuries to their upper body, it was a time for them to get back.”

It’s more than just the ground game, though, on the minds of UL’s defense. The Redhawks have run for 1,730 yards and 20 touchdowns with Jaylon Bester leading (689 yards, 12 TDs).

But quarterback Brett Gabbert has also thrown for 2,163 yards on 153-of-285 passing for 11 TDs and eight interceptions.

“They’re very physical, fundamental,” Jacquet said. “They want to run the ball down your throat and take the shots when they can.

“Yes, you can’t go to sleep. The ball may not find you, but you have to make sure you’re on your Ps and Qs at all times. We’ll have to stop their run and make them one-dimensional.”

There are more reasons to believe UL’s defense will be better in Monday.

For one, peculiar late-season communication busts have been addressed.

“Sometimes people didn’t get the right call,” Boudreaux said. “They played something different. They played cover two instead of cover three, things like that. That all falls back to communication.

“If we just get that communication back and keep on emphasizing and overemphasizing communication, we’ll get back to the way that we play.”

Sophomore cornerback Eric Garror has seen improvement in recent practice sessions in that area.

“We’re doing different things on defense and we’re communicating better,” Garror said. “We’re coming together as a team through some communication that we didn’t do during the season and picking up trash that we didn’t do in the other games.”

Sophomore safety Bralen Trahan said expects other areas to improve as well.

“In the last couple of practices, we’ve been working on the things that we hadn’t been doing so well in,” Trahan said. “Those areas we needed to improve on, we did a great job on at practice. Things like tackling for sure and just being better at the ball as defensive backs, breaking up passes, and getting better.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.