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UL quarterback Levi Lewis (1) and running back Trey Ragas (9) celebrate a touchdown during the Cajuns' 44-34 road win over Texas State on Saturday.

Coach Billy Napier has only been around these parts for three years now.

That’s long enough to have noticed what the biggest Sun Belt Conference rivalry is for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

It’s the annual meeting with Arkansas State, which visits Cajun Field at 11 a.m. Saturday for UL's homecoming.

“One that is a rival for our institution and team and university and we certainly understand that,” Napier described the matchup. “You can throw the records out, you can throw the stats out. (ASU) Coach (Blake) Anderson does a really good job with their program and they’ll have his team ready regardless of what’s happened in the past.”

There’s a lot of past in this rivalry. This is the 48th meeting since 1953.

It really heated up in the Mark Hudspeth era with the two teams competing for league titles.

There are some aspects of the rivalry Napier hopes will continue Saturday. For one, the Cajuns almost always win their home games in it.

UL has won 11 of its last 12 home games in the series with the only loss being 50-27 in 2012. Meanwhile, Arkansas State is 7-8 in its home games since 1990.

“It’s been a tough rivalry for the entire time I’ve been here,” UL fifth-year senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner said. “We don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s put the ball down, go get it and see who wants it more. We’ll see on Saturday.”

On paper, the two teams appear to be headed in opposite directions entering the contest. The Cajuns are 5-1 overall and 3-1 in league play, while the Red Wolves 3-4, 1-3 after losses of 45-17 to Appalachian State and 38-10 to Troy in their last two games.

“We obviously are struggling to score points the last couple of weeks on offense after having a lot of success early," Anderson said, "so we’re going to get back to the drawing board and find some consistency there, with a really, really tough challenge in Lafayette coming up on Saturday morning.” 

“We’ll keep working to get these guys better, improve them, grow some young guys up, and see if we can get a good football team on the field. I think we’re capable of that, we’re just struggling to find consistency and that’s the focus for the week.”

The offensive line has been an obstacle in the search for consistency for both offenses so far this season.

“We obviously are struggling up front a little bit, we’ve had some guys in and out of the roster with some injuries and other things that have kind of changed the dynamic up there a little bit,” Anderson said. “I thought we met up with a tremendously difficult task with the way App State’s built up front the week before, but this week I thought the matchups were way more in our favor and we still struggled.

“Too many mechanical busts, too many technical busts up front to really have a good consistent day.”

On the other hand, Napier is hoping his offensive line questions are in the past after putting up 44 points and 614 yards total last week, despite four turnovers.

“I think we have taken a little bit of a step forward each week,” he said. “I think it’s a continuity thing. I think it’s settling in to having the same group of players available for several weeks in a row. Anytime you lose a player, it affects the rotation, it affects how you practice. We’ve been fortunate here to be healthy for a stint. That’s allowed us to coach the same players in the same positions.”

Of late, Max Mitchell has started at right tackle and Carlos Rubio at left tackle, while the interior of the line has remained more consistent throughout the season.

Last week, the running game caught fire with 282 yards behind Trey Ragas’ big night of 131 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.

“We only two negative plays the entire day,” said Napier, who has struggled with the offense’s inconsistencies all season.

Defensively, the Cajuns will be on high alert for Arkansas State’s big-play receiving corps, led by Dahu Green (32-542, 5 TDs) and Jonathan Adams (52-737, 8 TDs).

“I think it’s part of who they are,” Napier said. “They’re going to take their shots and I think it makes sense for them to do that. They’ve got some elite players on the outside. There’s no question that’s going to be a big part of the chess match here in terms of mixing it up.

“They’ve had a heck of a run on offense. I know it hadn’t quite been that way the last couple of weeks, but they’re very capable. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Napier and his players said the emphasis for the last two weeks has squarely been on dominating Sun Belt West games.

"We control our own destiny in the West," Napier said. "That’s a good thing, but we’re still searching for that complete game. We’re still searching for our best performance of the year – putting the sum of the parts together. I think we’re yet to do that. I do think we’re getting closer and that’s exciting to our staff."


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.