SAN MARCOS, Texas — UL’s stakes in its 4 p.m. regular-season finale Saturday at Texas State are crystal clear.
If the Ragin’ Cajuns win, they’re almost certainly headed to a bowl game. If they lose, the season is over.
There’s also no mistaking the history between these two programs, with UL leading 9-0 with nine double-digit victories under its belt. The analysis of this matchup gets a little muddier after that.
The Bobcats are 4-7 and not bowl eligible, and they never have threatened to beat the Cajuns in nine tries. Besides that, it’s hard to see much of a distinction.
UL lost to Troy 23-17 at home while Texas State lost at Troy 17-14.
The Bobcats lost to Southern Miss 20-14, while the Cajuns lost to the Eagles 39-24.
Texas State beat Appalachian State 36-24 from the Sun Belt East while UL beat East foe Marshall 23-13.
“We’re playing a Texas State team that the second half of the season has played really good football,” UL coach Michael Desormeaux said.
Much of UL’s dominance over the Bobcats has been in the trenches. Texas State’s approach is different this year.
“They’ve kind of flipped their M.O. a little bit on defense,” Desormeaux said. “They’ve got some good players to play the way they’re playing. In the past, they’ve been kind of a read-and-react defense a little bit. They kind of line up and stay where they’re at. This year, they’re way more aggressive.”
For instance, Texas State is No. 4 in rushing defense (UL is No. 8) and sixth in total defense (UL is No. 7).
That defense certainly caught the eye of UL starting quarterback Chandler Fields.
“Their defense is super good,” he said. “Their D-line’s really talented with super high motors. Their DBs are super talented and also their linebackers. It’s going to take all of us doing our job.”
In the red zone, Texas State’s defense ranks seventh in the league (UL is No. 11).
“They’ve got three of five starters back on the O-line,” Desormeaux said of the offense. “They continue to get better. You can see that. They do run the ball effectively. They get in some sets, and they’ll spread you out and run it.”
A pair of Arkansas State transfers — quarterback Layne Hatcher (262-415-9, 2520 yards, 19 TDs) and running back Lincoln Pare (144-551, 4 TDs) — lead the offense.
“He gets the ball out really quick,” Desormeaux said of Hatcher. “He makes good decisions with it.”
Texas State’s offensive line is middle of the pack in sacks allowed and No. 5 in time of possession (UL is No. 8).
The Bobcats are No. 8 in passing offense (UL is No. 10) but are No. 12 in rushing offense (UL is No. 10). Texas State is No. 2 in red-zone offense (UL is No. 11).
Hatcher has taken almost every snap at quarterback this season, while Fields will be in his second game back after missing five games with a shoulder injury.
Desormeaux said it's full-steam ahead with Fields running the show.
“No one’s that much better than someone else where you can just hide your quarterback anymore,” Desormeaux said. “That world, it just doesn’t exist anymore. The I-formation, get under center and just hand it off and hold them to 10 points, that world doesn’t exist.
“So we’re going to play to win the game with him. He’s got to continue to play well. Hopefully, as the game went on, he continued to get better and that carries some confidence into this next one.”
One thing all of those numbers don’t measure is the desire and mental toughness Desormeaux sees in his Cajuns.
“I think when our backs are against the wall, that’s usually when we’re at our best,” he said. “This year, we’ve had opportunities in some games, and I think we’ve developed a little sense of urgency in our team and the way we do things.
“Our kids understand. They know what it is, but I feel like that’s when we do our best work when our backs are against the wall and you’ve got to go.”