With ULM next, UL has chance for school-record 10 wins

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

A 53-3 win over Troy is in the books.

With UL now 9-2 and riding a five-game winning streak after its 50-point victory over the Trojans on Saturday at Cajun Field, so too is some history.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have tied their school record for wins in a season, and with three games remaining – Saturday night’s regular season finale against UL Monroe at Cajun Field, a meeting with No. 22 Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference championship game and their seventh bowl appearance in nine years – they are poised to perhaps break it.

Related:Cajuns claim second straight Sun Belt West championship with rout of Troy

UL's Ja'Marcus Bradley (right) and Neal Johnson (left) celebrate Bradley's touchdown catch in Saturday's 53-3 win over Troy at Cajun Field.

UL has now won nine games on the field seven times since 1970: in ’70, ’76, each season from 2011-14 and this year.

But because multiple wins were vacated during the four straight 9-4 seasons from ’11-14 due to recruiting-related NCAA rules violations, and because two victories were forfeited in ’76 for the use of ineligible players, the last time before Saturday that UL officially won nine games was in 1970.

This time, the back-to-back Sun Belt West Division-champion Cajuns claimed their ninth in convincing fashion.

UL compiled 598 yards of total offense and ran up its season scoring average to 39.5 points per game, supplanting Troy as the league leader.

The Cajuns are now 10th nationally in scoring offense, and fifth in rushing yards per game at 276.2.

“If you have 600 yards of offense,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier, “every position group is carrying their weight.”

More:Napier says UL shows 'undeniable level of commitment,' but can't slow down now

Using tight man coverage and an aggressive rush to ground the league’s top air attack, meanwhile, UL also held Troy 36 points below its scoring average of 39.0 per game going into the day.

The Cajuns collected four sacks and another five quarterback hurries while holding the Trojans to 203 passing yards, 100-plus below their still Sun Belt-high average of 314.0.

“I didn’t think it would be that easy,” to be honest with you,” Napier said of the win.

Now comes the hard part, and it boils down to this:

If Appalachian State beats Troy on Friday night, UL will travel to Boone, North Carolina, for a second straight Sun Belt title game hosted by the Mountaineers.

But if Troy beats App State and UL beats UL Monroe on Saturday night, UL will host the Mountaineers in the Dec. 7 championship game at Cajun Field.

More:Sun Belt championship game within reach for the Cajuns

Either way, winning the conference title will require beating a team UL has failed to beat in seven all-time tries, all since 2014 – including two last year and one this year, a 17-7 loss back on Oct. 9 at Cajun Field, the only blemish on the Cajuns’ 2019 Sun Belt slate so far.

Potential implications of the UL-Troy game prompted ESPNU to pick it up for national cable television broadcast, meaning a 6:30 p.m. start.

Both UL’s and Appalachian State’s opponents this week also will be playing with something on the line.

After beating Coastal Carolina 45-42 Saturday night at home, UL Monroe needs a win to become bowl-eligible at 6-6.

Troy, also currently 5-6, will be at home on Friday night and needs a win over App State to finish the regular season .500 and become bowl-eligible as well.

Five Sun Belt teams – UL, Appalachian State (10-1), Arkansas State (7-4), Georgia State (7-4) and Georgia Southern (6-5) – already are bowl-eligible and could claim the conference’s five bowl tie-in spots.

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

But getting there and putting themselves in the mix for bowl consideration is incentive nonetheless for the Warhawks and Trojans.

The winner of the SBC title game will play in the Dec. 21 New Orleans Bowl (except in the unlikely case it finishes as highest-rated Group of Five program and claims a spot in the Cotton Bowl), while the loser will play in one of the Sun Belt’s four other affiliated bowls.

For the Cajuns, that likely means either New Orleans for the sixth time in nine years if they win the championship or one of two Alabama locales – Mobile for the newly renamed LendingTree Bowl against a MAC opponent on Jan. 6, or Montgomery for the Dec. 21 Camellia Bowl against a MAC team – if they fall in the title game.

The Sun Belt’s rep in the Dec. 21 New Orleans Bowl at the Superdome is slated to face an opponent from Conference USA.

With all that in mind, Napier knows well what Thanksgiving week will hold for his Cajuns.

“We’ve got work to do,” he said.

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In an already historic season, that’s something UL has shown it is more than willing to embrace.

It’s all part of the bigger picture, one that could produce 10 wins for the first time the Cajuns started playing football in 1901.

That the case, UL didn’t overly celebrate what happened Saturday.

Instead, the Cajuns remember what happened a season ago – and how after beating UL Monroe to win the West and get into the Sun Belt title, they didn’t take the next step.

“We (were) at the same point last year,” defensive end Chauncey Manac said with reference to a 2018 season that ended with UL at 7-7. “We know what it feels like, and we’re really just trying to win it all.

“We know what we’ve got to do to get where we want to go,” Manac added, “so we don’t really stay too high or too low. We just stay right in the middle.”

And work away.

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UL received 18 voting points Sunday in this week’s USA Today coaches poll, which is the fifth-most among teams outside the Top 25 and 10 more points than last week. Last week, the Cajuns received the seventh-most points outside of Top 25 teams.

UL also received one vote Sunday in the AP Top 25, its first vote of the season in the writers’ poll. Seven teams outside the Top 25 including the Cajuns received at least one vote.

Related:Napier's Cajuns starting to attract national attention