College football games after Thanksgiving Day are typically between two very tired football teams with their eyes on the finish line.
But when it comes to Saturday’s 2 p.m. Sun Belt Conference matchup between the No. 23-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns and the winless ULM Warhawks at Malone Stadium in Monroe, both teams should be rested and ready to go. At least physically, anyway.
It’s one of UL coach Billy Napier’s favorite things to say.
“We’re excited about another opportunity to compete and play,” UL coach Billy Napier said.
Napier will not have seen his team in a week and a half with Friday being his first day out of a 10-day quarantine period after testing positive for COVID-19.
His Cajuns’ home game against Central Arkansas was canceled.
Across the way, ULM (0-8, 0-5) hasn’t played in three weeks — last falling 52-35 at Georgia State on Nov. 7.
“I think what’s different, we had a pretty long layoff early in the year before we played Army, but when we came back it was 95 to 100 degrees and trying to get everybody back going,” ULM coach Matt Viator said. “At least we’re fortunate now the weather is a little better, we were able to practice Saturday and Sunday, go out and do some stuff. It seemed like we were closer than what we were at that particular time, but who knows? We’ll see.”
Perhaps no player is more anxious for this game than ULM junior quarterback Jeremy Hunt. He replaced starter Colby Suits early in the loss at Georgia State and threw for 339 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Then had to sit for three weeks before getting to play again.
When 6-foot-5, 333-pound Tayland Humphrey transferred to UL from Florida International before the 2019 season, there were many questions to be…
“I thought he did a nice job in the second half,” Napier said. “He came in and gave them a little bit of a spark. I thought he threw the ball around well. There is a little bit of a different dynamic to that, given the fact that this is a relatively inexperienced quarterback and we don’t have a lot of history on the guy.
“I do think he threw the ball around well. He is a good, athletic and big guy. I think that’s part of the game. We’re going to play a quarterback we don’t know a whole lot about.”
Before the Georgia State game, ULM’s offense had only scored more than 17 points once all season.
Hunt will be facing a UL secondary that has 11 interceptions on the season and contributed nine pass breakups in the 38-10 win over South Alabama on Nov. 14.
“That comes down to practice — the coverages that we run, the film prep,” UL safety Kam Pedescleaux said of the secondary’s recent successful run. “Lately, we’ve been having a lot more turnovers and that’s what we’ve been emphasizing in practice. That’s what we do in practice and it translates into Saturday on game day.”
On the flip side, Viator has seen his fill of UL senior quarterback Levi Lewis.
“I can’t say enough good things about Levi Lewis and watching him and what he does each and every week,” Viator said. “He’s just a phenomenal player in my opinion. You can tell last year the game slowed down for him and it’s really slowed down this year in terms of what he’s doing.
“There’s a few plays every game that he makes, that he extends plays in running or gets out of the pocket and makes throws, it’s hard enough to stop them and when you think you do have him, he extends plays. I think he’s been phenomenal.”
Even for 2020, this past week has been especially strange for UL coach Billy Napier.
The Cajuns (7-1, 5-1) are coming off their best performance of the season. Lewis threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns in the game, leading an offense that posted 506 yards total.
A total of 12 different targets caught passes for Lewis in that game.
“A lot of credit to Louisiana and what they’ve been able to do, with what coach Napier and his staff have done,” Viator said. “It’s really, really impressive. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of time to watch them, I’m really impressed with what they’re doing from an offensive standpoint.
“They run the ball with the three good tailbacks of course, I think they’ve done a great job with their receiving group this year, more by committee than maybe without No. 2 (JaMarcus Bradley) last year.”
After a relatively rested November, UL will travel to Appalachian State on Dec. 4 before likely heading to Coastal Carolina for the Sun Belt title game on Dec. 19. That's assuming the Chanticleers win one of their final two games.
ULM, meanwhile, still has to travel to Arkansas State on Dec. 5 and then Troy on Dec. 17.
“The big thing here is we’ve got a month left of football — ULM, App. State and then two weeks to get ready for the championship game against Coastal,” Napier said.
“The next challenge is ULM. We’ve talked a lot about trying to get hot at the right time and play our best football down the stretch.”