How the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns used in-game defensive adjustments to top Georgia Southern

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

For a while Saturday it looked like UL was going to have a difficult time  chasing a quarterback it could not catch.

But before long the Ragin’ Cajuns were the ones who had Justin Tomlin on the run.

That went a long way toward UL (3-1, 1-0) beating Georgia Southern 28-20 in its Sun Belt Conference opener at Statesboro, Georgia.

Quarterback Levi Lewis took care of most of the rest with touchdown passes of 48 yards to Michael Jefferson, 22 to tight end Johnny Lumpkin and 46 to Dontae Fleming.

“It was awesome to watch, man,” coach Billy Napier said of the play from UL’s defensive line and linebackers in particular against the Eagles’ modern triple-option offense.

“We really challenged our front, you know? When you play this team your front has to answer the bell, over and over – at the point of attack, on the edges."

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Late-game Cajun stand

Georgia Southern (1-3, 0-1) had a chance to tie the game and force overtime when it got the ball back on its own 18-yard line with four minutes and 40 seconds remaining.

The Eagles, lifted largely by a 26-yard pass from Tomlin to running back Logan Wright, drove to as close as the Cajuns’ 30-yard line.

But defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill sacked Tomlin for an 8-yard loss on second down with 57 seconds to go, inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner hurried him into an incompletion and – on fourth down – defensive lineman Kendall Wilkerson did the same after chasing the QB deep into Georgia Southern’s backfield.

UL linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill knocks a pass away from Georgia Southern tight end Beau Johnson in the Cajuns' road win over the Eagles on Saturday night.

“Everybody was on the same page,” defensive end Andre Jones said.

“That was really the fun thing, was being able to make plays, and that put the icing on the cake right there.”

Things didn’t start off well for UL as Tomlin had 20 rushing yards on Georgia’s opening drive alone.

But he finished with just 33 rushing yards on 22 attempts including a long of 18, and he was sacked three times for 19 lost yards.

“We just had to wake up,” Gardner said.

“We just brought that juice, brought that energy … and started making plays, and we started feeding off each other.”

All about UL adjustments

Georgia Southern finished with 278 yards of offense and got three touchdown runs from Gerald Green, including a 76-yarder early in the fourth quarter to get to within one score.

But the Eagles had 50 lost yards in all as Gardner was credited with with 2.0 tackles for loss including one shared sack, Wilkerson had 2.0 TFLs including one sack and Jones and inside linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill had 1.5 TFLs each.

The Cajuns rolled in defensive linemen including Wilkerson, Sonny Hazard, Mason Narcisse and Dalvin Hutchinson for depth behind Hill, Jones and Tayland Humphrey and wore Georgia Southern down up front.

But more to it than that turned the table for the Cajuns after Georgia Southern, and Tomlin in particular, seemed to run at will early on.

After the opening quarter, Green’s 76-yard TD was the Eagles’ only big rushing play.

Napier, whose Cajuns visit South Alabama on Saturday, credited UL defensive coordinator Patrick Toney for that.

“P.T.’s a great in-game coach,” Napier said.

“We made a few adjustments. This is what we practice. I think we just had to get some things adjusted out, make sure we were communicating, set the fronts the correct way, set the safety down the right way, a few wrinkles here and there."