INSIDE THE GAME
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Cajuns are trying to continue their recent stretch of successful home openers. UL has won 10 of its past 11 home openers with the only exception being the forgettable 45-10 setback to Boise State in 2016 that resulted in the immediate firing of defensive coordinator Melvin Smith. Ohio University was the last loss before that — 31-23 at Cajun Field in 2007.
The Cajuns’ secondary vs. Liberty’s pitch-catch tandem … The bread-and-butter of Liberty’s offense is four-year starter quarterback Stephen Calvert and explosive senior receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. The Flames’ running game failed to reach positive numbers in last week’s shutout. Limiting Liberty’s top target would aid UL’s cause greatly.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CAJUNS: UL running back Raymond Calais was the most productive of the three backs last week with 80 yards rushing and 15 receiving, while Jamal Bell stole the show at receiver with eight catches for 113 yards. Also, sophomore safety Percy Butler led the defense with eight total tackles.
LIB: Senior safety Elijah Benton led the Flames with 13 tackles last week, while Latvia native DL Ralfs Rusins added nine stops and a sack. The Flames’ top player is WR Antonio Gandy-Golden, who had 119 yards receiving last week.
FACTS & FIGURES
While the Cajuns gave up 261 yards rushing last week to Mississippi State, Liberty’s rushing attack was limited to a minus-4 yards in the shutout loss to Syracuse. … Despite losing 24-0, though, the Flames did actually get more first downs 18-17 than Syracuse’s offense. … The Cajuns fared better in the conversion battle last week, limiting MSU to 4-of-10 on third and fourth downs, while only hitting at 4-of-12 clip. That’s compared to Liberty’s offense converting 3-of-16 tries and Syracuse’s offense hit on 10-of-23.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
3 – The visiting Flames own a 3-0 all-time record against teams from the Sun Belt, including wins over Appalachian State, Georgia State and Troy.
28 – Number of consecutive games in which UL senior receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley has caught at least one pass in after his six grabs last week.
13 – Consecutive seasons Liberty has posted a record of .500 or better with an overall mark of 94-55 during that stretch.
1 – Elite receivers
Both offenses are blessed with clear-cut No. 1 receiving targets. For the Cajuns, it’s senior Ja’Marcus Bradley with career totals of 106 catches for 1,546 yards and 13 TDs. For Liberty, it’s senior Antonio Gandy Golden with 83 receptions for 1,275 yards and 10 scores after catching six passes for 119 yards last week.
2 – Turnover-prone?
It’s just one game, but both coaching staffs are hoping the respective season openers aren’t a sign of things to come. The Cajuns officially committed five turnovers in last week’s loss to Mississippi State, including three lost fumbles after only losing three total in 2018, while Liberty had four turnovers in the loss to Syracuse.
3 – 0-2 starts
Neither UL or Liberty have a recent history of getting off to 0-2 starts to the season. The Flames haven’t started a season with two losses since 2012, while the Cajuns haven’t done so since 2013 when UL opened the season with back-to-back road losses to Arkansas and Kansas State.
4 – Seasoned QB
The Cajuns’ defense will be facing a veteran quarterback in senior Stephen Calvert, who has started 31 straight games for the Flames. Calvert ranks No. 4 among active FBS quarterbacks in both passing yards (8,596) and touchdowns (program-best 65).
Aug. 31 Syracuse, L 24-0
Sept. 7 at Louisiana, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 Buffalo, 5 p.m.
Sept. 21 Hampton, 5 p.m.
Sept. 28 New Mexico, 5 p.m.
Oct. 5 at New Mexico St., 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 Maine, 5 p.m.
Oct. 26 At Rutgers, TBA
Nov. 2 At Massachusetts, 11 a.m.
Nov. 9 At BYU, TBA
Nov. 23 at Virginia, TBA
Nov. 30 New Mexico State, 1 p.m.
Aug. 31 Mississippi State, L 38-28
Sept. 7 Liberty 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 Texas Southern 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 At Ohio TBA
Sept. 28 At Georgia Southern TBA
Oct. 9 Appalachian State 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 At Arkansas State 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 Texas State TBA
Nov. 7 At Coastal Carolina 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 16 At South Alabama TBA
Nov. 23 Troy TBA
Nov. 30 UL Monroe TBA
THE ADVOCATE SAYS …
UL 37, Liberty 17
Understandably, Liberty’s offense is off to a slow start with all the time missed and medical complications of offensive genius and head coach Hugh Freeze. If the Flames can’t run it much better than last week, UL’s defense should be able to apply pressure. Meanwhile, the Cajuns’ offense showed plenty of potential last week against Mississippi State. Looks like UL is catching the Flames at the right time to roll.