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UL wide receiver Jalen Williams, left, caught a touchdown pass during last year's 38-10 home win over South Alabama at Cajun Field.

The UL Ragin’ Cajuns expect a physical altercation when they meet unbeaten South Alabama in Saturday’s 7 p.m. Sun Belt showdown at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile.

“South Alabama in past games, physical, it’s trench warfare,” UL running back T.J. Wisham said. “Offense and defensive, they’re physical and we’re physical, so it’s always a physical game. They have athletes in all phases of the game, so it’s always been a challenge with them.

“We’re two physical teams in a conference matchup, so we know what to expect — a physical, hard-fought game, so we’re going to come ready.”

This will be UL’s first game at South Alabama’s new on-campus, field-turf stadium that seats 25,450. The coaching staff also is new with first-year coach Kane Wommack, who brings different schemes to the equation.

“Really, it’s a completely different blueprint in all three areas,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “Obviously they’ve hired three analysts from the University of Alabama on offense. Kane’s a defensive guy and coach (defensive coordinator Corey Batoon) is in that same family of defense, and the special teams blueprint is connected to Kane’s past.

“In general, it is a complete wholesale change in terms of conceptually.”

Wommack came to South Alabama after serving as Indiana’s defensive coordinator, and the Jaguars have been stellar on that side of the ball.

South Alabama is ranked No. 1 nationally in third-down conversions and red-zone defense, in addition to being fourth in rushing defense (55.3 ypg), 12th in sacks (11), 19th in scoring defense (15.67 ppg) and 25th in total defense (290.67 ypg).

“They play with the right leverage, and certainly the ability to rush the passer and affect the quarterback,” Napier said. “Statistically, they’ve done an exceptional job. They’ve got a good plan, not only in terms of how they rush but also in terms of how they mix up the coverage.”

The Jaguars (3-0) also sport a new quarterback in Jake Bentley, who previously played at Utah and South Carolina.

“He’s a good athlete,” Napier said of Bentley. “I think the important part is that we do a good job with our rush plan … and make sure we keep him in there, so we can affect him. He’s an accurate passer, he’s got arm talent, and he does a good job of making decisions.

“He understands their system, and for the most part when you watch the game, the ball goes where it should go.”

Bentley has thrown for 684 yards and two touchdowns and one interception under offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. Bentley isn’t a major scrambling threat.

His top targets are wide receivers Jalen Tolbert (14-317) and Caullin Lacy (14-133). Running back Kareem Walker (53-208, 4 TDs) is the top rushing threat.

“I think it’s a big part of the game,” Napier said. “Each time we’ve played these guys in the past, they’ve got exceptional skill … certainly at receiver this year, they’ve got some elite playmakers.”

UL has won five straight games against the Jaguars to own a 7-2 cushion in the series.

For that to continue, UL needs health on the offensive line. Napier confirmed Wednesday that starting left tackle Carlos Rubio joined reserve offensive linemen Tyler Brown and Jax Harrington with season-ending injuries. The expected contingency plan is moving Ken Marks to left tackle and A.J. Gillie to left guard.

The injuries have put more emphasis on young offensive linemen King McGowen, Kamryn Waites, Landon Burton and Nathan Thomas. Junior David Hudson’s importance expands as potential options at guard and center.

“He (Hudson) certainly would be in position to contribute if need be,” Napier said. “All those guys are in the picture. They are players that are relatively inexperienced and getting valuable reps each and every day. It’s going to be awesome for them down the road when they continue to get reps in practice."


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.