Scouting report, prediction: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football at Liberty
UL football has won nine straight games since losing its season opener at Texas.
The No. 21 Ragin’ Cajuns (9-1) play their final regular-season non-conference game Saturday (3 p.m. CT, ESPNU) at Liberty (7-3) already knowing they’ll host the Dec. 4 Sun Belt Conference Championship game.
UL, which won its only previous meeting with Liberty 35-14 in 2019 at Cajun Field, is coming off last week's 35-21 win at Troy.
The Flames, who’ve won 15 straight at home, also lost at Syracuse on Sept. 24 and at UL Monroe on Oct. 16.
They were 10-1 last season with wins over Syracuse and Virginia Tech and a lone loss to North Carolina State.
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Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, is widely regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft if he opts to go pro next year.
“(Willis) is dynamic,” UL coach Billy Napier said, “and after you watch closely you understand why everybody in the country is buzzing about the guy.”
With ample size and terrific mobility, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Willis runs often – 15.3 times per game this season, 27 at Ole Miss – and is a challenge to bring down despite being sacked nine times by the Rebels. His 755 yards, 10 touchdowns and 153 carries on the season all are team-highs.
Napier considers Willis a running back playing quarterback.
“He’s a big, strong player,” Napier said.
“He’s got contact balance, and not only in the design quarterback run and read game … but on passing downs, when he takes off running or scrambles or escapes to extend the play.”
The former Auburn reserve QB also has an efficient arm with across-the-field range, evidenced by 156-of-235 passing for 2,159 yards with a 66.4 completion percentage. But Willis also has been intercepted nine times. His favorite target is slot man Demario Douglas, who has 42 catches for 618 yards.
UL running backs
With Bailey back, look for UL to again rotate its top three backs evenly behind an offensive line led by Senior Bowl selection Max Mitchell.
Starting Mike linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill is off the injury list after missing the Troy game with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
But how much McCaskill plays is uncertain.
When he was out, usual Will linebacker Ferrod Gardner was primarily responsible for setting the defense. Gardner, who has accepted an invitation to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl along with outside linebacker Chauncey Manac, responded a key, late interception and a game-high 11 tackles.
With 316.6 yards and 18.7 points per game allowed, Liberty is 14th nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense.
The Flames also are 10th in passing yards per game allowed (182.2) and 14th in pass efficiency defense.
UL on third, fourth down
With just 50 successful plays on 131 third attempts, UL has a 38.2% conversion rate good for a mediocre 77th nationally.
Yet the Cajuns are 20th in the country on fourth down, going for it 25 times and making it 17 – a 68% success rate.
Liberty 28, UL 24: The Cajuns have issues dealing with mobile, tough-to-tackle quarterbacks, and Willis won’t make things easy on them. The Flames could extend their home winning streak to 16, but it won’t be easy either.