We continue our early 2019 opponent previews this week with a look at Liberty’s 2nd opponent on the 2019 docket. Before we get into the details of the game, there has been some confusion in recent years on what exactly to call the Ragin’ Cajuns. Honestly, I don’t care what you want to call them – ULL, UL-Lafayette, Lafayette, Louisiana – but their official name is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. An approved shortened name for athletics purposes is Louisiana. They have asked to not be referred to as UL-Lafayette or ULL. So, out of respect for the school, that is what we will be referring to them as.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Recommended Blog/Message Board: Ragin Pagin
Conference: Sun Belt
Coach: Billy Napier is entering his 2nd season as head coach at Louisiana. Prior to his time with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Napier had coaching stops at Clemson, Alabama, Colorado State, and Arizona State. The 39-year old is originally from Georgia and played his college ball at Furman.
2018 Record: 7-7, 5-3, L Cure Bowl
Last Season: Louisiana has made 6 bowl games over the past 8 seasons including a Cure Bowl appearance in 2018 where they lost to Tulane, 41-24. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished 7-7 last year in Bill Napier’s first year as head coach. After finishing tied atop the West Division standings with Arkansas State, the Ragin’ Cajuns won the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head win over Arkansas State. Louisiana advanced to the inaugural Sun Belt Championship game where they lost to the East Division champs Appalachian State.
Following early, non-conference games against SEC opponents Mississippi State and Alabama, which sandwiched a conference loss to Coastal Carolina, Louisiana fell to 1-3 to open the season. They would respond to win 6 of their next 8 games to clinch bowl eligibility ending a brief one year bowl absence.
Senior quarterback Andre Nunez guided the offense to just over 31 points per game while the defense surrendered 34 points per game. The offense was also spearheaded by the talented trio at running back Elijah Mitchell, Trey Ragas, and Raymond Calais.
2019 Outlook: Cajun fans are again expecting a bowl appearance in 2019, which has become the norm. In year two of the Billy Napier era, UL hopes to take another step forward after a 7-7 first season. If they’re able to replace Nunez at quarterback, the Ragin’ Cajun offense should once again be explosive as they will be led by the three running backs (Mitchell, Ragas, Calais) that all return. Leading receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley, a third-team all-Sun Belt selection a season ago, returns as well.
Junior quarterback Levi Lewis looks to be solidified as the starter, as Napier described him this spring as being “on a different level” compared to the rest of the QB roster. The three-star dual-threat quarterback out of high school, has a significant amount of playing experience. After appearing in 4 games as a true freshman in 2017, Lewis got time in all 14 games a season ago, completing 37-of-59 passes for 585 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions while also adding 40 rushing yards. Napier is not shy to play two quarterbacks either, so keep an eye on that entering the week 2 game.
To say there is excitement at the offense’s abilities for 2019 would be quite the understatement, but, like Liberty, it may be the defense that ends up deciding just how good the team will be.
Leading tackler Jacques Boudreaux returns to lead the defense at linebacker. He finished with 93 tackles in 2018. In 2017, UL’s defense gave up 40 points and 492.7 yards per game. Those numbers improved under first year defensive coordinator Ron Roberts last season, dropping to 34.2 points and 435.9 yards per game. If that positive trend continues this fall, the Cajuns will finish with another winning record and bowl appearance and will be challenging for a Sun Belt trophy.
Liberty Game Date: Saturday, September 7
Location: Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA
Odds of Liberty Victory: 30 percent
Very Early Outlook: Coach Freeze has been very adamant about wanting to get Liberty to its first ever bowl game, and game #2 is one of a few games that could be classified as “swing games” towards that goal. Louisiana opens the 2019 season the previous Saturday against Mississippi State in the Superdome in New Orleans. The game could go either way and should be very entertaining as both teams like to score points in bunches. The Ragin’ Cajuns are a year ahead of the Flames in terms of a new system and will also have the benefit of playing at home. On paper, this is a game that should be decided in the 4th quarter and likely by just one score.