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Applying pressure on Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke by UL defenders like linebacker Joe Dillon (3), shown here against Texas Southern, is a big key in the Cajuns' quest for a road-opening win Saturday.

INSIDE THE GAME

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

The Cajuns are trying to get off to their first 3-1 start since 2012 and only their third one in the last 31 seasons. Moreover, UL striving to collect its first victory in a non-conference road opener since crushing Tulane 48-6 in 1990, as wells as only its second road-opening win period since 2012 (37-24 at Troy).

KEY MATCHUP

Ohio QB Nathan Rourke vs. UL’s front seven – Not only is Rourke, the all-time leading passer in Bobcats’ history, but he’s also the leading rusher on this year’s team. It’s going to critical for UL’s front wall to both put pressure on Rourke to get him uncomfortable, but also to contain him enough to prevent him from killing the Cajuns with his legs.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

CAJUNS: UL’s running backs Trey Ragas, Raymond Calais and Elijah Mitchell all have at least 178 yards rushing after three games to spark an attack that leads the nation in rushing yards.

BOBCATS: While the quarterback soaks up most of the ink on Ohio, he’s got a long list of capable receivers, led by Jerome Buckner with eight catches for 146 yards and Isiah Cox with nine grabs for 119 yards. Tyler Tupa, son of former Ohio State quarterback/punter Tom Tupa, has three receptions as well.

FACTS & FIGURES

Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke has accounted for 730 of the Bobcats’ 1,116 total yards so far this season. He also set the all-time school record for career TD passes with 84 (Jake Delhomme’s UL record is 64). … Ohio kicker Louie Zervos has made four of his five field-goal attempts with a long of 44, while UL has made a field goal yet. … When UL rushed for 440 yards last Saturday, it was the most rushing yards in a game since putting up 419 against Arkansas State on Nov. 21, 2014. … In addition to some lofty national rankings due to a powerful rushing attack, UL is also ranked No. 22 nationally in fewest sacks allowed with three.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

39 – The deficit number of plays opposing offenses have run against Ohio’s defense so far this season, including 17 in last week’s 33-31 loss at Marshall. By comparison, UL is a plus-15 over three games in total offensive plays.

14 – The number of rushing touchdowns the Cajuns have collected so far this season, which ranks the offense No. 1 nationally in that category.

3 – Current winning streak by the Cajuns against MAC teams, most recently with a 35-30 road win over Akron in 2013 as well as beating Kent State twice. Historically, however, the all-time series is tied at 6-6.

FOUR DOWNS

1 – Turnovers

Neither team has fared very well in the turnover battle so far this season. Ohio led the nation in turnovers forced last season with 32. UL is currently minus-2 and the Bobcats minus-3. In a dead-heat type matchup, that could be critical.

2 – Young vs. not-so-young

UL’s Billy Napier is a 40-year-old coach in his second season as a Division I head coach, squaring off against 75-year-old veteran Frank Solich. Solich is the fourth winningest active coach in the nation with a career record of 165-96, trailing only Nick Saban, Mack Brown and Gary Patterson.

3 – Conversion wars

So far this season, UL has done better in the third and fourth-down conversion battle on both sides. Ohio’s defense has allowed a 15-of-44 success rate on third and fourth downs, compared to UL’s 10-of-42. Offensively, UL has converted at a 15-of-32 clip, compared to 18-of-38 for the Bobcats.

4 – Rushing averages

Few running backs in America are averaging over 11 yards per carry, like UL’s Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais, but those aren’t the only good rushing averages in the game. Elijah Mitchell is averaging 4.9, while Ohio has Nathan Rourke (5.4), De’Montre Tuggle (7.6) and Julian Ross (4.9).

SCHEDULES

OHIO (1-2)

Aug. 31 Rhode Island W, 41-20

Sept. 7 At Pittsburgh L, 20-10

Sept. 14 At Marshall L, 33-31

Sept. 21 Louisiana, 1 p.m.

Oct. 5 At Buffalo, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 Northern Illinois, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 Kent State, TBA

Oct. 26 At Ball State, TBA

Nov. 6 Miami-Ohio, TBA

Nov. 12 Western Michigan, TBA

Nov. 19 At Bowling Green, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 26 At Akron, 6 p.m.

UL (2-1)

Aug. 31 Mississippi State 11 a.m. L, 38-28

Sept. 7 Liberty 6:30 p.m. W, 35-14

Sept. 14 Texas Southern W, 77-6

Sept. 21 At Ohio 1 p.m.

Sept. 28 At Georgia Southern 5 p.m.

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 34, Ohio U. 30

This contest is a very difficult one to handicap. These two schools haven’t played since 2010, and it’s complicated trying to compare UL’s efforts against Liberty and Mississippi State to Ohio’s games against Pittsburgh and Marshall. Defensively, the Bobcats are giving up 183 rushing yards per game. That’s not a great number preparing for UL’s average of 336 rushing yards per game. The Cajuns have gotten good pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz so far this season. If that continues, coupling that strength with a productive rushing attack make for good ingredients for success on the road. If pressure can’t be achieved, dealing with Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke could be a chore on the road.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.