ACA.ulfootball9.110820

UL linebacker Ferrod Gardner pulls down Arkansas State quarterback Logan Bonner for one of his team-high 13 tackles last Saturday in the 27-20 home win over Arkansas State.

It didn’t take very long for the Ragin' Cajuns defense to get the message when preparation began for Saturday’s 1 p.m. home contest against South Alabama.

Cajuns defensive coordinator Patrick Toney posted the Jaguars’ rushing totals against UL defenses for the past two seasons.

“To be honest, I think last year was pretty embarrassing the way they ran the ball on us,” said UL coach Billy Napier, whose Cajuns (6-1, 4-1) can secure a spot in the Sun Belt title game with a win. “We found a way to win that game, but certainly it was not one of our better days on defense.”

The 2018 contest wasn’t either.

Despite beating the Jaguars last season 37-27 in Mobile, South Alabama rushed for 351 yards and posted 457 yards total in the game, compared to UL running for 255 with 391 yards total.

In UL’s 48-38 home win over the Jaguars two years ago, the numbers weren’t all that pretty either. South Alabama ran for 223 yards and put up 477 yards total, compared to 210 rushing and 407 total for the Cajuns.

“The first thing (Toney) told us is that we’re going to have to stop the run this week in order to dominate the game,” UL safety Bralen Trahan said.

And after reviewing the numbers and watching film, Trahan is convinced.

“I just think that’s what this game is going to come down to — stopping the run and when they do decide to pass the ball, breaking it up and making plays,” Trahan said. “Just like coach Toney says: winning your one-on-ones. We’re going to have to win our one-on-ones on the outside, because we’re going to be trying to stop the run.”

“This team’s strength are on the line of scrimmage in my opinion,” Napier said of South Alabama. “Don’t get me wrong, I think they’ve got really good skill too, but these guys are really good up front on both sides of the ball. I think it’s a strength of theirs.”

Defensively, the Jaguars (3-4, 2-2) are excellent on third down — only allowing first downs on 33% of attempts.

“They’ve got a good plan and they’ve got good players,” Napier said. “They force people into third-and-longs. They’ve got cover people, they’ve got good rushers. I think the short-yardage and their front seven is a big strength. History is the best indicator of the future and they’re good on third down.

“They do a lot of things well; good design and good players.”

South Alabama limited No. 15 Coastal Carolina to its lowest point total of the season in the 23-6 loss to the Chanticleers last weekend.

“I thought our defense played really, really well,” South Alabama coach Steve Campbell said. “I thought our guys were flying around and did a really good job. I thought we played well defensively, they gave us the ball in good field position a couple of times, we just weren’t able to capitalize.”

The other clear-cut observation concerning this matchup is its importance to the Sun Belt West Division race. If UL wins, the Cajuns will win the division for the third straight season. If not, the Jaguars would have a path to dethroning the Cajuns.

“There are two teams that are in contention for the West right now and they play Saturday at 1 right here at Cajun Field,” Napier said.

“If we can travel over there to Lafayette and get this victory, then that’ll put us right where we want to be,” Campbell said. “All of our goals as far as conference championship are still very attainable and we still control our own destiny. We need to put together a great game plan this week and go execute, and get the W and we’re in the driver’s seat in our half.”

The other interesting matchup in this contest is South Alabama’s ability to protect its quarterback. The Jaguars have been sacked 23 times for 171 yards this season, compared to UL limiting the sacks to nine for 52 yards.

“They’ve done a nice job the last few years of keeping the down-and-distance manageable,” Napier said. “That’s allowed them to play their brand of football. If you can get them into passing situations - favorable down-and-distances situations for us - then we may have a better opportunity to affect the quarterback.

“Need to win on early downs and try to create second and third-and-longs.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.