UL offense awakens at Georgia Southern
STATESBORO, Ga. – Thursday afternoon, UL offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jorge Munoz met with his position group in the lobby of a hotel in nearby Savannah.
Whatever was discussed, and whatever the Ragin’ Cajuns did during a week of preparation for Thursday night’s game here, must have made an impression.
Because on an evening Cajun quarterbacks were in, out, and back in time and again, much went well.
So went the storyline Thursday night at Paulson Stadium here, where UL – getting contributions from starting QB Anthony Jennings, reserve QB Dion Ray and slot receiver Al Riles at Wildcat QB, among others – beat Georgia Southern 33-26 in an ESPNU-televised game in front of an announced crowd of 16,786.
"I'm just extremely proud of this group of guys, the way they prepared in a short turnaround, five days, and coming over and winning our second straight road game," UL head coach Mark Hudspeth said.
"I'm extremely proud of their effort, proud of the way they continue to prepare, proud of this group of guys that is a class group of guys that work hard every day."
Seldom-used Ray actually got the Cajuns going with a scoring run that followed UL’s first touchdown of the night, an Elijah McGuire run.
A touchdown run from Jennings gave UL a bit of a cushion going into halftime, helping to extend a 14-13 lead to 21-13 with six seconds to go before the break.
And Riles’ pushed the separation even farther for the Cajuns in the third quarter, throwing a 48-yard scoring pass to Keenan Barnes out of a direct snap to help push the UL lead to 31-13.
With that, the Cajuns improved to 4-5 (3-3 in the Sun Belt Conference) and Georgia Southern fell to 4-6, 3-3.
"Our offensive staff," Hudspeth said, "did a great job of opening up the playbook and letting playmakers make plays.
"When we gave them opportunities," he added, "they made plays."
THE OTHER SIDE
While UL kept its crew of quarterbacks busy Thursday, the Eagles surprisingly played without both of their top-two QBs, as both Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw sat out with injuries.
Freshman Seth Shuman, who has appeared in just three games this season, started instead. The true freshman from Valdosta, Georgia, was making his first career start.
The Eagles also were running back Wesley Fields, their second-leading rusher this season.
HOW THEY SCORED
Georgia Southern drove first and came away with a 39-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo.
But on a drive spurred by redshirt-freshman Ray, UL made it 7-3 with McGuire’s and a Stevie Artigue PAT.
The TD was the 50th of McGuire’s Cajun career, pushing him past Tyrell Fenroy for another UL school record. Earlier this season, McGuire also become the Cajuns’ career leader in scoring and all-purpose yards.
Ray – who has played sparingly this season as a Wildcat QB – came in for five snaps on the drive and set up McGuire’s touchdown with runs of 6, 9 and 15 yards.
UL’s usual backup quarterback, Jordan Davis, was hit hard along on the sideline on the Cajuns’ ensuing possession and lost a fumble that eventually led to GSU’s second field goal of the night, a 27-yarder that it 7-6.
But the Cajuns responded with a second touchdown drive, this one capped by a 16-yard run from Ray.
The redshirt freshman headed around the right side and scored his first touchdown as a Cajun behind blocks from slot receiver Riles, center Eddie Gordon and guard Kevin Dotson.
Artigue added a second PAT to make it 14-6 Cajuns with 6:09 left in the first half.
Before the half was done, though, Georgia Southern got back to within one at 14-13 with a 10-yard pass from Shuman – his first collegiate TD throw – to slot receiver Myles Campbell.
Campbell found a soft spot in the UL secondary and scored with 1:18 left before the break.
UL made the most of the minute and change that remained, as Jennings ran in from 10 yards after making a key completion to Riles and two to Barnes.
The six-play, 92-yard drive was UL’s longest of the season.
Artigue opened the second half for UL with a 34-yard field goal, and with 6:34 left in the third Riles connected with Barnes on a one-play drive that proved to be a back-breaker.
Georgia Southern did get a 2-yard L.A. Ramsby TD run early in the fourth quarter, but UL linebacker Otha Peters picked off a fake PAT kick and brought it back 98 yards to make it 33-19.
Ramsby scored again with 4:23 left, running in from 1 yard out three blockers after Ironhead Gallon returned a blocked punt to the 3.
It, however, ultimately would not be enough for the Eagles to complete their comeback, and Jennings ran out the clock with a key 21-yard run followed by a pass to Riles for a first down.
"To be honest with you," Hudspeth said of UL's 482-yard offensive effort, "most of that was made possible by really good protection by the offensive line that allowed us to push the ball down the field."
With games remaining against Georgia, Arkansas State and UL Monroe, UL must win two of the three to become bowl-eligible for the fifth time in six seasons.
The Cajuns visit the SEC’s Bulldogs on Nov. 19.