Four observations before the Cajuns open Sun Belt play

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

The slate of non-conference play is in the books.

After an opening loss to Mississippi State in New Orleans, UL heads into the Sun Belt Conference portion of its 2019 season, beginning Saturday at Georgia Southern, on a roll at 3-1 with three straight wins.

Read ’em, and weep with mostly happy tears.

The streak started with a victory over independent Liberty, and continued with a 70-point decision over FCS-member Texas Southern.

The latest win for came Saturday at Ohio of the MAC, where the Ragin’ Cajuns rode the rushing of Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas to a 45-25 victory that marked their first in a true road opener since it beat Tulane in 1990.

Both rushed more than 100 yards, with Mitchell scoring three touchdowns and Ragas another.

Related:Cajuns rely on Mitchell, high-powered ground game in win

Ragin' Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis runs with the ball during Saturday's win at Ohio.

Up next is a three-game stretch of Sun Belt games that might be UL’s toughest in conference play this season.

Georgia Southern, idle on Saturday, is 1-2, but that includes two losses to Power 5 programs, a 55-3 season-opening trouncing at LSU and a 35-32 loss at Minnesota back on Sept. 14.

Conference-favorite Appalachian State — which will be in town Oct. 9 for an ESPN2-televised showdown at Cajun Field — is 3-0 and fresh off Saturday’s 34-31 road win against a Power 5, North Carolina.

And Arkansas State — 2-2, with a win at UNLV and coming off a 41-28 victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday — always gives UL a fun-to-watch battle.

With all that in mind, four observations — don’t cry — before SBC play gets underway for coach Billy Napier's Cajuns:

More:Cajuns win big on the road


With an average of 46.3 points per game, the Cajuns have the 11th-highest scoring offense among all FBS teams nationally.

In terms of total yardage, they’re fourth-best at 565 yards per game – trailing only Oklahoma (676.7), Washington State (605.3) and Arizona (586.0).

And their rushing offense is third nationally at 323.8 yards with per game, with only Navy (371.5) and Oklahoma (324.3) better.

A ground game led by Mitchell and Ragas is the real deal, no matter what level of opponent UL is facing.

The Cajuns also have a bona fide receiving threat in senior Ja’Marcus Bradley, who is averaging 16.5 yards per catch on his 20 receptions through four games.

Their offensive line – despite major knee injuries for senior starters Cole Prudhomme and Ken Marks – has been getting the job done, due in large part of the play of standouts Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson on the right side.

Related:Cajuns' Kevin Dotson sets high expectations for himself and team

More:NFL-prospect Bradley 'doing something right' for Cajuns


Quarterback Levi Lewis hasn’t been asked to be much more than a game manager/ball distributor so far this season.

His accuracy hasn’t been perfect, his decision-making needed to be better early in the win at Ohio and UL’s deep vertical pass game amounts to little more than tossing up 50-50 balls.

Yet Lewis’ completion percentage is respectably among the country’s 50 best – 43rd overall, actually – at 65.4.

If there comes a time during Sun Belt play when much more is required from Lewis it will be interesting to see how he answers the bell, and it could ultimately influence just how much this offense really can do.

Related:Ragin' Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis 'a student of the game'


The second season for UL’s defense under coordinator Ron Roberts has produced a vastly improved unit, especially against the run.

The Cajuns came up with three interceptions against an Ohio offense led by respected QB Nathan Rourke – one each by Kamar Greenhouse, Asjlin Washington and Kam Pedescleaux – and play like that could go a long way in SBC games.

Inside linebackers Jacques Boudreaux and Ferrod Gardner have been solid for a defense with more quality depth across the board than a season ago, but key for the Cajuns could be the status of standout defensive end Chauncey Manac.

Manac – an important piece of the run defense after moving up to the line from last year’s Jack outside linebacker spot – left the Ohio game early with an injury, and the Cajuns did not immediately have an update on his status going forward.

Related:Ragin' Cajuns linebacker Chauncey Manac leaves Ohio game


UL does have plenty to clean up before playing its eight league games.

It starts with focus.

The Cajuns were charged with a whopping 16 penalties at Ohio, and it cost 161 yards. That must get trimmed dramatically going forward.

Field goals is another issue. Kicker Stevie Artigue is 26 for 26 on PATs this season, but he’s 1-of-5 on field goal attempts, including two misses from inside 40 yards.

When it’s close against the Sun Belt’s best, that must change too if UL is to make it back to the conference’s championship game for a second straight season.

Related:UL senior Artigue a different kicker, person after ACL tear

More:Focus on improving special teams paying off for Cajuns