A lot of numbers have been flying through the heads of Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team this week.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are still reveling over the 47 points and the 505 offensive yards they rolled up in last Saturday’s pivotal 47-34 Sun Belt Conference win over New Mexico State.
They’ve tried to wrap their heads around an 0-9 football team beating a conference rival 52-0, which is what Georgia Southern did last week against South Alabama when its option attack rolled up 583 yards.
The Cajuns have their minds on four: the number of teams that have one Sun Belt loss and are one game ahead of them in the league standings. If things fall just right, UL-Lafayette could still share the conference title with many in that group.
Some Cajuns are thinking about 23, which is the number of seniors that will play their final home game Saturday when UL-Lafayette hosts Georgia Southern at 4 p.m. at Cajun Field.
The most important math on Saturday, though, is one into 78.
The Cajuns (5-5, 4-2) need one win in their final two games to become bowl eligible and likely claim one of the 78 slots for postseason play. The Sun Belt has five locked-in spots in that 78, and UL-Lafayette would become the fifth conference team to reach bowl eligibility with a Saturday win or a Dec. 2 victory at Appalachian State.
Head coach Mark Hudspeth said his team would rather go ahead and take care of that matter Saturday.
“These guys know what’s at stake,” he said. “We give them all the talk about the next game and how big it is because it’s a home game and it’s a conference game, but they know the importance of this game.
“If they weren’t focused before, after seeing how well Georgia Southern played, they are now. That was a wakeup call for everybody playing this team from here on out. You better get your team ready to play.”
The visiting Eagles (1-9, 1-5) have labored through a tumultuous season, with the once-proud program firing head coach Tyson Summers in late October after an 0-6 start and a 55-20 drubbing at the hands of lightly regarded UMass being the final indignity.
Assistant head coach Chad Lunsford took over as interim head coach and Georgia Southern lost three more games, but all three were against one-loss league teams: Troy, Georgia State and Appalachian State. Last Friday, in their home finale, the Eagles took out all that frustration on the Jaguars in leading 31-0 at halftime. GSU, the Sun Belt’s top rushing team despite the record, ran for 356 yards and five scores and threw for 227 yards and two more in the most lopsided win in the entire Sun Belt this season.
“That was the first game where we put it all together in all three phases,” said Lunsford, a Broyles Award nominee for the nation’s top assistant coach last season. “They’ve been working toward it. The guys just bought in. Can I put my finger on it? No. I didn’t expect 52-0, but I expected us to win and I expected us to play better.”
The Eagles have played one of the Sun Belt’s toughest schedules to this point and have averaged more than 208 yards rushing per game out of their “gun option” attack. But Hudspeth said the key to GSU on offense may be the throwing game, where it’s averaged 134 yards per game in Lunsford’s four games as head coach.
“People talk about the triple-option, but they add extra dimensions to it,” he said. “They spread your defense thin. If you don’t have somebody for each one of them, you’re going to have a big play, and they have a good scheme that allows their quarterback to make plays.”
Both Eagles quarterbacks, Shai Werts and Kado Brown, threw for more than 100 yards and a touchdown against USA, and Werts is also GSU’s leading rusher with 600 yards. Wesley Fields (595 yards) and L.A. Ramsby (437) are the other cogs in a ground attack that has gone over the 300-yard mark twice this year.
Last year, though, the Cajuns were able to bottle up the rushing game, holding them to 52 yards and forcing the Eagles to go to the air — which they did and nearly rallied from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit before UL-Lafayette held on to win 33-26 in Statesboro in the first game between the teams.
The Cajuns had some gaudy offensive numbers themselves last Saturday, with quarterback Jordan Davis throwing for 203 yards and two scores and running for 71 yards and a third TD. Freshman running back Trey Ragas, returning from a one-game suspension, bulled for 132 yards and two scores as UL-Lafayette rushed for 279 yards against the Aggies.
Davis stepped back in under center in UL-Lafayette’s revolving door at quarterback — the Cajuns are one of four FBS schools nationally that have started three quarterbacks in wins this season — when freshman Levi Lewis was a late scratch 20 minutes before kickoff. Lewis had suffered an ankle injury the previous week at Ole Miss and Hudspeth said Lewis told him after pregame warmups that he wasn’t fully ready.
“The way he did that, and the way Jordan stepped in, showed a lot of poise; that says a lot about both those young men,” Hudspeth said.
Both Davis and Lewis have worked with the first-team offense in practice, and Hudspeth said the decision on who starts may again come at game time.
“You’d always rather know who your starter is, but this year has been tough,” he said. “Every time you think you’ve settled in on a guy, he’s gotten injured. Give (offensive coordinator) Will Hall a lot of credit, he’s developed three quarterbacks who have played at a high level and that’s not the easiest thing to do.”
The Cajuns enter Saturday’s game still with a mathematical possibility to share the Sun Belt title, but they need help. In addition to winning their final two games, UL-Lafayette needs the four one-loss teams — Troy, Arkansas State, Georgia State and Appalachian State — to all lose once in their final two games. Those possibilities become more likely if Appalachian State wins at Georgia State and UL-Monroe beats Arkansas State at home Saturday.