ACA.ulfootball34.090819

UL defensive end Chauncey Manac dialed up two sacks in the win over Liberty and now awaits 0-2 Texas Southern on Saturday.

It’s certainly a unique scenario, so it’s no surprise UL coach Billy Napier preferred to sidestep the questions during the week about his Ragin’ Cajuns being a 40-something point favorite in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game against Texas Southern at Cajun Field.

Also understandable are the reasons for the huge spread.

Texas Southern comes to Cajun Country for the first meeting between the two programs with an 0-2 record after losses of 44-23 to Prairie View and 63-44 to Incarnate Word.

Making the expectations even higher are the numbers. The Tigers’ defense is giving up an average of 680 yards.

Incarnate Word broke its school record with 402 yards rushing last week in accumulating 746 total yards.

On paper, that’s a favorable matchup for Napier’s offense, which sports one of the best three-back rotations around in Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais. UL rushed for 404 yards last week.

Naturally, Saturday’s game will reveal how focused Napier’s Cajuns (1-1) will be in such a matchup, but early indications on the practice field were good.

“We’ve gotten great effort, great physicality, great toughness; we’ve got good energy, good spirit about us, but we’ve got to have more discipline, more detail and more focus,” Napier said.

Behind the scenes, Napier can only hope his players are taking the proper mental approach to Saturday’s tune-up before heading to Ohio University next Saturday.

“We’re going to get an idea of what kind of leadership we have,” Napier said. “The conversations that they have when the coaches aren’t around ultimately decide a lot about the intensity, urgency, mindset and what the approach is going to be. That’s what I was pleased with today. I thought we had it today.”

If mid-week news conferences are any indication, he might get his wish.

“I feel like our focus is always the same,” senior defensive lineman Bennie Higgins said. “We’re locked in. I don’t care if we’re playing someone from the SWAC or someone from the SEC, we don’t take anyone for granted. We practice the same every day. We practice hard, running to the ball as a defense.

“We just prepare for the worst. Anybody can be beat.”

Junior linebacker Joe Dillon echoed those basic sentiments.

“We don’t have ever just look at it as, ‘OK, we’re the underdog, we’ve got to go hard,’ or ‘We’re the alpha, we don’t have to go as hard,’ ” Dillon said. “We just go out there and play football each game. We don’t look at who we play. We look at how we’re going to play.”

True or not, one thing’s for sure in Napier’s mind: His Cajuns still have plenty to work on when looking in the mirror.

For starters, there’s the turnover ratio, which sits at minus-4.

Napier also wants an improved downhill passing attack, fewer penalties and a higher conversion rate on offense.

In other words, he’ll address a potential mass substitution plan if, and only if, those circumstances arise in the second half Saturday.

“I’m just trying to win the game,” Napier said. “I know y’all like to throw that out there, but we don’t live in that world. We’re trying to get better. We’ve got a first and a second team that’s ready, and we’re going to go out there and try to play the best game of the season so far.

“And try to have a little bit better of a respectable operation — not turn the ball over, not have undisciplined penalties, not have missed tackles and miscommunications and missed field goals and all that kind of stuff. That’s all I’m worried about.”

One thing is for sure. Despite Texas Southern's 0-2 start, Napier and his staff have a few motivating factors working in their favor.

Tigers quarterback DeAndre Johnson originally signed with Florida State.

"The guy can do everything," Napier said. "He can throw and run. He’s as talented as anybody in the country. (Texas A&M coach) Jimbo (Fisher) recruited him when he was at Florida State. Certainly he’s got arm talent, and the crazy thing here is they’ve got a Power Five (conference) group of skill players to go with him. It’s going to be a good test for us for sure."

Wide receiver Donnie Corley originally signed with Michigan State and actually played both ways for the Spartans as a freshman. Corley's 453 yards receiving that year were the most by a true freshman in school history at the time.

Also, wide receiver Tren'Davian Dickson's top six schools during his recruiting process were: Alabama, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and USC.

"They’ve added probably six or seven transfers to their team that makes them really talented," Napier said. "They’ve got their weapons and we’re going to have to be well prepared to defend them. Coach (Clarence) McKinney’s got significant college experience, he’s been around some really good coaches, and you can see that’s proved beneficial to him and how his team is playing so far."

McKinney previously coached at Houston, Texas A&M and Arizona.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.