Our Q&A today comes courtesy of Underdog Dynasty, SBN’s hub for all things midmajor. There’s not a whole lot to say about ULL — this is apt to be a ghastly beating, even by paycheck game standards. The Ragin’ Cajuns have fallen so very far in such a short amount of time. But, here’s what to look for on Saturday.
1. ULL had been one of the Sun Belt’s more dynamic teams off-and-on over the past decade. But, the Cajuns took a nose three years ago, and it seems like Billy Napier inherited a program that is cratering. How much of ULL’s struggles seem to be of his creation, and how much are the work of Mark Hudspeth and lingering effects of NCAA probation?
A lot of what’s happening over the past few years can be attributed to the problems created during the Hudspeth era in Lafayette. It’s a hard situation to watch or assess at times, because the Ragin’ Cajuns have so much talent on their roster and it just isn’t translating to the field during their games.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Napier gets a full pass. You can’t really blame him for the struggles so far this year, because they’ve had a weird schedule to start the season. His team will need to finish strong in the second half of the season if he doesn’t want the doubters to creep in.
2. We are familiar with Napier’s work at Alabama as WR Coach, where he developed a very physical, pro-style corps. But, philosophically, his offense at Lafayette seems more wedded to the style he ran under Dabo Swinney at Clemson, with tons of RPOs. What do the Cajuns do well on offense, and what should Alabama fans look for on Saturday?
First and foremost, the Ragin’ Cajun offense lives and dies by the run. They have had some years recently where they’ve gotten the passing game going, but you can just tell when you watch them that they want to run the ball. After sending Elijah McGuire to the New York Jets a couple seasons ago we have seen the emergence of Trey Ragas as the lead back, and he can make plays.
Fans of the Crimson Tide should watch the matchups in the trenches to see if Ragas or the other backs can find running lanes. They also have a respectable receiving corps that has flashed playmaking ability, and I imagine the Cajuns will have to try and use that wideout talent in any way they can against such a stout defensive front.
3. It has been the defense where ULL has struggled the most, particularly stopping the ground game; only two teams are worse in the FCS. But, the secondary is very respectable. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 56th nationally against the pass, and have only surrendered four scores through the air in four weeks. Who are the playmakers back there that Tua and Company will need to watch out for.
Some new faces lead the secondary this season after losing both Tracey Walker and Simeon Thomas to the NFL in the 2018 draft. Koa Haynes has stepped up to be a playmaker having recorded the 3rd-most total tackles on the team. The JUCO transfer is in his senior year and will be someone to keep an eye on.
Another interesting player in the secondary is CB Michael Jacquet, who Cajun fans will recognize as a WR, not a DB. With such a crowded WR corps, Jacquet has found playing time on defense. He’s a great athlete and he’s definitely got hands, so he’s a guy that could make a big play here or there.
4. For ULL to have any shot in this game, what must its keys to success be? What weaknesses in the crimson armor can be exploited by this team?
That -48.5 line for the Crimson Tide seems pretty fair going into this one. Mississippi State had their way with the Cajuns a couple of weeks ago and I expect this game to go a similar way. I think that the Cajuns can do a few things to salvage positive vibes going into the next week of the season and make sure that the game isn’t a total wash.
First, they can save some of their dignity by getting some sort of running game going. Even if it comes in the second half when the Tide pull their starters, it’s still a positive in my mind. Second, they need to force a couple of punts. Even if it’s just 2 or 3, that’s a huge accomplishment in such a mismatch for the Cajuns.
Finally, they can try to come out with a lot of energy and hopefully exploit a possible slow start for the Tide. Alabama’s players know this isn’t a big challenge for them, so maybe if they come out flat-footed on a few drives the Cajuns can get a taste of success early on. Other than that, it should be all Crimson Tide.
Clinton was also kind enough to enclose an archived article from way back in 1990 when these two teams met. Does the name Lemanski Hall ring a bell?