Despite all the talk about a medical chair, we have an actual football game to play. The Liberty Flames (0-1) hit the road for the first time this season as they head to Lafayette, Louisiana to take on the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (0-1). This game marks the first ever meeting between the two programs and the first time Liberty has ever played in Louisiana or faced a team from the state of Louisiana.
Last week, the Ragin’ Cajuns fell to Mississippi State, 38-28. They could have won the game if it wasn’t for the 5 turnovers they committed. The final result was a huge improvement from UL’s 56-10 loss to MSU a year ago.
“We’ve got a very difficult task down at the University of Louisiana,” Coach Hugh Freeze said of this weekend’s game. “Billy Napier, I’ve known him for years, have great respect for him as a man. He’s a great person of faith and also a heck of a football coach.”
The Louisiana offense begins with their 3-headed monster at running back – Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell, and Raymond Calais. Ragas and Mitchell each rushed for over 1,000 yards last year while Calais added 766 rushing yards. This trio also combined for 28 touchdowns in 2018. Coach Freeze called these three the most talented running backs Liberty will face this year.
Expected to be the strength of the team this season was the offensive line. Led by seniors Kevin Dotson, Robert Hunt, and Cole Prudhomme, Louisiana featured linemen who had combined to start 130 games in their college careers. Starting left guard Kent Marks went down with an injury in the first half against Mississippi State and he miss the rest of the season. True freshman O’Cyrus Torrence is expected to make his first career start in Marks’ place.
At quarterback, Levi Lewis is a talented athlete who can hurt an opponent both running and passing the ball. Despite being a full-time starter for the first time in his career, Lewis has plenty of experience. Against the Bulldogs in the opener, he was 24-of-39 passing for 267 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.
“He is a kid I knew out of high school,” Freeze said of Lewis, a native of Baton Rouge. “Very athletic, one of those that make you scared to rush too much because he may use his feet. (I) compare him a little bit to (Malik) Willis who we have that’s transferred here. He makes you nervous when he gets out of the pocket. We’ve got to think about how we’re going to play that and contain him.”
Similar to Syracuse, Louisiana utilizes the zone-read frequently. The difference with UL, is Levi Lewis is much more dynamic in the run game than Tommy DeVito has shown. Against the Orange, Liberty was hoping DeVito would pull it and run; whereas, this week, the Flames will have a much more challenging task in stopping the zone-read as both their quarterback and running backs are equally disruptive running the ball.
Leading receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley returns from a 2018 season where he totaled 608 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Bradley had 93 yards on 6 receptions last week, but the Ragin’ Cajuns were led in receiving by Jamal Bell who had 8 receptions for 113 yards against Mississippi State. Bell played in only 5 games last season, his first year in the program after spending one season at Tyler Junior College.
“Offensively, they are multiple,” Freeze explained. “They were about 50-50 last week in rush-pass. So, you have to defend both. They present a challenge with all of the different pictures they give you – tons of motions and shifts that in a week’s worth of planning you’ve really got to be on top of your game to not be confused defensively in your alignments and assignments.”
Louisiana’s defensive coordinator is Ron Roberts. He and Freeze know each other from the early 1990s when they both coached at different high schools in the Memphis, Tennessee area. Roberts is in his 2nd season at UL after a decade as a head coach first at Delta State and most recently at Southeastern Louisiana.
“I would say the strength of their team is probably their front,” Freeze said of the Ragin’ Cajuns defense. “I think bouncing between the 3 and the 4 down is always a little bit of a guessing game that presents you as a play caller. They are athletic up there.”
Senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux is back after leading the team in tackles in 2018 with 93. He also added 5.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Michael Jacquet moved from wide receiver to defensive back prior to last year and he made his presence felt against Mississippi State.
- Liberty is 3-0 all-time against Sun Belt opponents including a 22-16 win last year over eventual Sun Belt East co-champ Troy, 55-48. The Flames also have an overtime win at Appalachian State, 41-33, from 2014 and a 41-33 win at Georgia State in 2015.
- The last time Liberty started 0-2 was in Turner Gill’s first season in 2012. The only time Hugh Freeze has ever started a season 0-2 as a head coach was in 2008 at Lambuth, his very first season as a head coach in college.
Freeze on the atmosphere – “I don’t get too concerned with the atmosphere. I’ll be disappointed if our kids let an atmosphere affect the way we approach a game. That doesn’t matter to us, shouldn’t. We’re silent-cadence most of the time. That should really excite you – to get to go and play in that type of environment. I will be disappointed if that has anything to do with us.”
Freeze’s biggest concern – “You’re playing a very, very talented football team that is multi-dimensional offensively. Defensively they know what they’re doing. Their depth chart is probably a bit deeper than ours in what could be a very hot game. They’re well coached, I think that they are a really quality opponent. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the Sun Belt, but just watching the little bit I have on tape, I bet you they’re in the thick of it. I bet you we’re playing a possible conference champion.”
Freeze on the O-Line’s play against Syracuse – “Many times, we had 3 guys that won their combo or won their battle, and then we have one guy that did not, and it causes the play to look bad. Some of that is because of Syracuse, some of that is because of us. A lot of the pass protection was us. Now, their guys are good, but we should at least be getting a hand on them. I’m disappointed in the way we played there. So, is (OL Coach) Sam (Gregg) and so are our kids. We will do everything to make that better.”
Louisiana 30, Liberty 21
All eyes will be on Buckshot and the Liberty offense to see if the Flames can put some points on the board this week. Points will be scored, but Louisiana is a year further in their development under a new coach than the Flames are.