There’s no time for UL’s football team to enjoy Saturday’s dominating 31-3 win over Texas State, even though the margin of victory was its biggest in a Sun Belt Conference game in five seasons, made a season-high homecoming crowd happy, made the Ragin’ Cajuns bowl eligible and put them into first place in the Sun Belt’s West Division.
Head coach Billy Napier said it’s full speed ahead to the next mission, and the Cajuns coach is probably wise to approach it that way since UL now faces its fifth five-day turnaround since 2013. The short week of preparation before Thursday’s meeting with Coastal Carolina also includes the challenges of UL’s fourth road trip in six games.
Lost for some in Saturday’s 31-3 homecoming win over Texas State was the 46-yard field goal by senior Stevie Artigue on the final play of the …
“You have to make sure that there’s no corners cut, no stone unturned,” Napier said heading into the 6:30 p.m. ESPNU-televised game in Conway, S.C. “You have to commit to that process, bring that energy and that attitude and that approach each and every meeting, walk-through, and practice rep. And we’ve done a pretty good job of that, I think it’s one of the areas where we’ve really improved.”
The Cajuns (6-2, 3-1) won for the sixth time in seven games Saturday in outmanning the Bobcats, nearly doubling the visitors in total offense (479 to 264) and scoring on five straight possessions after a slow start. UL had its final margin before the end of the third quarter and was nearly tripling the Bobcats offensively (431 to 157). In the second and third quarters, UL outgained Texas State 373-79.
“I think that we played a good defensive team,” Napier said of the Cajuns managing only two first downs on their first three possessions. “We had a handful of undisciplined penalties that slowed us down on three possessions in particular. And I think they chewed up the clock a little bit. They maybe didn’t get a lot of scores but they did have the ball. They’ve got a unique defensive scheme … they’ve been in a lot of games at halftime because of the defense that they have.”
With each passing week, the job UL defensive coordinator Ron Roberts’ unit is doing continues to amaze.
UL also played without three key offensive weapons. Junior Trey Ragas, the Cajuns’ leading rusher at 88.1 yards per game, missed the game with an ankle injury, all-Sun Belt tackle Robert Hunt was sidelined with an undisclosed injury and leading receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley (29 catches for 439 yards, 4 TDs) saw limited action after tweaking a previous ankle injury.
Napier said Monday he expects a return for Ragas, who while sitting out lost his national lead in average per carry to Jennings product and Clemson’s Travis Etienne, 8.96 to 8.42. He’s expected to rejoin running mates Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais, who both rank in the top 10 nationally in a stat category — Mitchell in rushing touchdowns (8th with 12) and Calais in kickoff returns (9th, 28.8 yards per run).
Ironically, Mitchell’s 6.1 yards per carry ranks 27th nationally, but still is the lowest of any of the seven Cajuns running backs who have carried the ball this season. That speaks highly of an offensive line that has led UL to a No. 3 national ranking in rushing (288.0) and a No. 13 ranking in total offense (491.1) while allowing the second-fewest tackles for losses in the country.
That line was juggled in the Texas State win, with Max Mitchell moving to right tackle to replace Hunt and Rico Robinson, a 14-game starter at left tackle last year, moving into his former spot. Napier said that will continue if Hunt is not available Thursday.
“It’s five equals one there,” he said. “A lot of those guys have significant experience. Rico’s played a lot of good ball for us, played really well in the games last year for us. He’s played mostly at left tackle in his career. Max is a little bit more versatile, he’s had some reps over there at the right and really looks comfortable over there, truth be known.”
For many during the preseason, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were supposed to be a team carried by an explosive offense.
“We knew that they (Texas State) were going to do things we hadn’t seen,” Robinson said. “We just had to correct some things and get on the same page, knowing sooner or later the runs were going to start popping.”
That front and that attack will be key against the Chanticleers (4-4, 1-3), who shook a three-game Sun Belt losing streak with a surprising 36-35 win over Troy on Saturday. Despite having faced many of the league’s best offenses, Coastal is second in the Sun Belt and 34th nationally in total defense under new coach Jamey Chadwell and new defensive coordinator Chad Staggs.
“Coastal is one of the more unique teams that we’ll play,” Napier said. “Some of the core runs they have are unique, no other team in the league runs them. Defensively I think their personnel’s really good, in particular their front seven. Their defensive front is one of the best in the league. They’re completely different conceptually on defense.”