Ragin' Cajuns have kept focus even when heavily favored

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

It’s another one of those weeks.

One in which the UL football team is heavily favored to win.

And each time that’s happened, the Ragin’ Cajuns have answered the call, refusing to lose their focus, even when all signs point toward a big blowout.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the maturity of our team,” UL coach Billy Napier said this week.

Earlier this season, according to teamrankings.com, the Ragin’ Cajuns were 47-point favorites against Texas Southern. Earlier this month, they were 23-point favorites against Texas State.  

Now, with a 28.5-point spread heading into Saturday’s visit to 1-8 South Alabama, the 7-2 Cajuns are 20-plus-point favorites for the second time in their last three outings.

More:Napier's 7-2 Cajuns starting to attract national attention

UL linebacker Jacques Boudreaux, shown here making the tackle in a win over Liberty earlier this season, likes the Ragin' Cajuns' focus.

Yet, they haven’t let the crazy numbers get in the way of taking care of business.

At 8-1, in fact, UL is tied with Ohio State for the best record in the country against the spread among FBS programs this season.

Behind it all is a firm belief in handling the task at hand, and thinking about nothing more than that — not even what tougher opponent might be waiting around the corner.  

“So far this year I think we’ve done a good job of ‘next opponent up, next team,’” senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux said. “We have to go into that game (each week) regardless of however much we’re favored.”

Not that the Cajuns, who after Saturday close their 2019 regular season with back-to-back home games against Troy and UL Monroe, pay much attention to just how lopsided some suspect the outcome may be.

More:Cajuns came 'ready to play' in dominant win at Coastal Carolina

“To be honest with you, as a defense, or maybe as a team, we don’t really look into that statistic very much,” Boudreaux said. “We go into that game, we prepare exactly how we prepare for … anybody else.”

Boudreaux does take much satisfaction in knowing that UL’s defense, much-maligned in years gone by, has permitted fewer than 10 points in both of its last two games, last week’s 48-7 win at Coastal Carolina and a preceding 31-3 win over Texas State.

The Cajuns also have allowed fewer than 26 points in each of their last eight outings, and 14 or fewer in 4-of-9 this season.

At 17.10 points per game allowed, UL owns the country’s 11th-stingiest scoring defense.

“It really does feel great,” Boudreaux said. “It’s really gratifying.

“But, at the same time, you can’t really get caught up in all that. You have to prepare for the next opponent, and try to do the exact same thing.”

More:Cajuns QB Levi Lewis has near-perfect game vs. Coastal

Napier is all about that approach, and firmly believes that UL’s ability to maintain its focus is bolstered by how it practices week in and week out.

“I think these guys have really bought into the routine,” he said.

“I think that they understand the value of preparation, how it can separate them from the opponent.”

It’s all about details.

“Then we’ve done a really good job,” Napier said, “of having a good plan, focusing on the things that are gonna affect the game, being really technical in our approach.”

Against Texas Southern, when UL was favored by 47 in September, the Cajuns rolled 77-6. Against Texas State, when they were favored by 23, they won by 28.

Related:Cajuns dominate defensively to beat Texas State big

Both times, Napier — never one to talk down an opponent anyway — warned against taking anything for granted.

Now he’s doing the same when discussing South Alabama, whose only win this season came against FCS-member Jackson State in its second outing of the year.

The Jaguars, coming off a 30-28 loss at Texas State last Saturday, have dropped seven in a row.

But two of their last four defeats are by three points or fewer, including a 20-17 decision in double-overtime at Georgia Southern back in early October.

“Reality is when you turn on the tape and you watch South Alabama you don’t see that record,” Napier said.

“I mean, you see explosive skill players. … Defensively, some of the better, more-explosive front players in our conference. Difficult to block. … You can see it in every game they played.

“So,” Napier added, “I don’t think their record reflects what we’re walking into here.”

More:UL more focused on Sun Belt title than bowl-eligibility