Balanced offense helps No. 25 Ragin' Cajuns run away from South Alabama

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

For perhaps the first time this season, it all came together – quick – on offense the No. 25 Ragin’ Cajuns.

The reward?

Behind a 38-10 win over South Alabama on Saturday at Cajun Field, UL (7-1, 5-1) won the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division and a spot in the SBC title game for a third straight year.

The Cajuns can largely thank their ground game for that as Chris Smith ran seven times for 99 yards and a touchdown, Trey Ragas had 10 carries for 78 yards and Elijah Mitchell churned out another 61 and one 1 TD on 15 rushes.

“We played with balance and I thought we were kind of mixing the tempo,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “I thought (quarterback) Levi (Lewis) was sharp early, and certainly in the first possession we were able to rush the ball.”

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Opening with six straight Mitchell runs and one by Ragas, the Cajuns capped a nine-play drive with Lewis’ 5-yard touchdown throw to Jalen Williams.

With the Jaguars worried about Mitchell, Ragas and Smith, Lewis was able to throw for 252 yards and three TDs.

UL had South Alabama’s defense off-balance much of the game after pounding it early, and for that the Cajuns also had their offensive line – which was missing starting left tackle Carlos Rubio due to COVID-19 tracing, but had early season starter Zach Robertson opening in his place – to applaud.

“We’ve been talking about it since Week 1 and today we finally put it together,” said Smith, who had a 22-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter and a 47-yard run that set up a 5-yard Mitchell TD run in the second quarter.

“The o-line, they were working together, working hard, being confident. We had faith in them today. Our running back, receivers, quarterback – we all believed in them.”

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Chris Smith had 99 rushing yards and a touchdown as No. 25 UL ran away from South Alabama 38-10 on Saturday at Cajun Field.

The 47-yard pickup was the result of what Smith called “special play” that ended when “I just put my head down and ran.”

The TD to the left side resulted from a counter in which he ran into open field as South Alabama’s all went the other way.

“That’s probably the biggest hole I’ve seen all year,” said Smith, who averaged 14.1 yards per carry.

The collective showing from UL’s running backs group – two senior NFL prospects and junior Smith – was past due, suggested Ragas, who had a 47-yard run of his own that set up a third-quarter Kenneth Almendares field goal.  

“The past couple weeks we haven’t been running to the best of our ability,” Ragas said of a unit that produced its second-highest total of the season with 254 rushing yards, topped only by 282 against porous Texas State.

“We made sure we hit the hole as hard as we can, and the o-line got a big push.”

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The blocking really was critical, Napier suggested.

It wasn’t just from an offensive line also featuring center Shane Vallot, right tackle Max Mitchell and guards Ken Marks and O’Cyrus Torrence, though.

“I wasn’t sure, based off the tape, where we would match up,” Napier said, “but I thought the guys up front really accepted the challenge.

“We … won the line of scrimmage and really did a nice job on the edges, and were able to rush the ball early, then I think that allowed us to have balance the rest of the day.”

UL wound up with more than 500 yards of 254 yards rushing and 252 passing.

 “We talk a lot about trying to get the ball to the second level, and in order to do that you’ve got to block the box. But you’ve also got to get really good work from the perimeter, and our receivers today took pride in playing well without the ball.

“It helps,” Napier added, “when you have some really good backs also.”

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