Louisiana-Lafayette football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Ragin’ Cajuns, best players and season prediction.
No, no, no … this isn’t how it’s supposed to work.
Forgetting all the NCAA violations from the past, Louisiana-Lafayette is supposed to go 9-4 every year, be in the mix for the Sun Belt title, and win the New Orleans Bowl. That’s what the program does, or at least it did four years in a row from 2011 to 2014.
So why was it crazy to think that last year’s team was going to do anything differently? But instead, the Ragin’ Cajuns couldn’t get the offense going early and totally collapsed late with one of the most puzzling final four games by anyone in college football.
It wasn’t going to be a special season by any stretch, but there was an easy path to a bowl game with a 4-4 record and South Alabama, New Mexico State and Troy still to roll up. Instead, the O went bye-bye, the banged up D faltered, and they fell off the map.
No, that’s not what Louisiana-Lafayette is supposed to do.
Head coach Mark Hudspeth came up with three straight great years at the helm before last year’s disaster, and he’s way, way too good a head coach to let his team come up with another clunker.
The biggest issue was the offense that wasn’t nearly as explosive or as consistent, but it didn’t get any help from a defense that fell apart as the year went on.
This time around, the Ragin’ Cajuns have the running back in Elijah McGuire, and they need Jalen Nixon to be the main man at quarterback after Brooks Haack transferred and with the main receivers gone. Throw in the loss of three starters on the line, and it’s asking a lot for the offense to rebound in a hurry.
Led by a loaded secondary, the defense has the potential to be stronger right away, but they need to make more big plays and they need help from a pass rush that didn’t exist for long stretches.
9-4 might be a bit ambitious, but it’s Louisiana-Lafayette. It’s supposed to be close to that good.
What You Need To Know About The Louisiana-Lafayette Offense
Unstoppable at times running the ball two years ago, the Ragin’ Cajuns sputtered and struggled a bit too much last season. That should change with a loaded group of running backs around crank everything up, starting with all-star Elijah McGuire. The line is the issue with three starters gone, and the receiving corps needs some work, but the ground game should be able to carry the O. Starting QB Brooks Haack transferred, but there are plenty of good options to test out – the position won’t be a problem.
Biggest Key To The Louisiana-Lafayette Offense
The running game should back to being the Ragin’ Cajun running game again. Part of the drop-off came because the rushing production from the quarterbacks wasn’t as strong, but after rolling up over 2,500 yards on a regular basis, last year the ground game came up with just 2,063 yards and 25 touchdowns, averaging 4.58 yards per try. Elijah McGuire is back, former quarterback Jalen Nixon will add a little flash as a running back, and Jordan Wright and Darius Hoggins are rising up as options. Expect a bounceback season.
What You Need To Know About The Louisiana-Lafayette Defense
The offense might have been a disappointment, but it was the defense that really hit the skids last year with major problems against decent passing teams and not enough key stops against the run. The secondary should be better and stronger with all five starters returning, while the interior of the defensive interior returns intact and should be okay, the pass rush needs to be a bit more dangerous on a consistent basis. Top tackler Dominique Tovell is gone along with linebacker running mate Zachary DeGrange, but seven of the top nine tacklers are back.
Biggest Key To The Louisiana-Lafayette Defense
Can the pass rush be more consistent, and where is it going to come from? The Ragin’ Cajuns were able to manufacture production into the backfield on a regular basis, but hitting quarterbacks at time was a problem. When they were able to do it, the overall results were great, almost pulling out the win over Kentucky and winning the four games when it generated three sacks or more. When they came up with one sack or none they lost all six times, generating four sacks in the span.
Louisiana-Lafayette Will Be Far Better If …
The turnover margin changes around. Solid over the last several years – or at least not a problem – the Ragin’ Cajuns were disastrous last season when it came to mistakes, finishing -9 on the season and losing the turnover battle six times losing all six games. In the four wins, ULL was a +3. In the eight losses it was a -12. The turnovers slowed down over the second half of the season, but the big problem was the lack of bit takeaways, coming up with more than one in just two games.
Best Louisiana-Lafayette Offensive Player
RB Elijah McGuire, Sr. – One of the Sun Belt’s best all-around offensive players, he wasn’t quite able to breakout like he did in 2014, when he ran for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 45 passes, but he still managed a 1,047-yard rushing season and 34 catches on the way to all-star honors. The 5-11, 208-pound do-it-all back won’t have to do it all with several good options to see time, but it’s nice to have a star of his caliber to rely on. Being fresh won’t be a problem after spending the offseason with the basketball team and missing spring ball.
Best Louisiana-Lafayette Defensive Player
CB Savion Brown, Sr. – A freakishly big corner, the 6-2, 218-poudner can play anywhere in the secondary and produce. He’s a terrific athlete, a great hitter, and now the leader of a veteran secondary that gets everyone back. The former JUCO transfer came up with 42 tackles with three picks – he’s an all-around playmaker who’ll always be around the ball.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Jordan Davis, Soph. – Or Chris Weaver, or Dion Ray, or Gunner Hudspeth, or Patrick Morton. Five quarterbacks are in the mix for the starting job, but Davis has the upside, skills, and look of exactly what the Ragin’ Cajuns need. Weaver is the other realistic option, with excellent rushing skills and a nice arm, but Davis is the guy to beat.
The Louisiana-Lafayette Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a 9-4 season. Again, that’s what the program is used to and that’s what the program does. After last year’s blip, it’s time to get back in the Sun Belt title chase, and it’s time to go back to being the team that was so consistently good. Outside of the dates against Boise State and Georgia, the Ragin’ Cajuns have a real shot in every game, especially against …
Nov. 26 vs. Arkansas State. The road game against Georgia Southern is vital, but the home game against Arkansas State could turn out to be the main measuring stick late in the season. It’s the one home game in the final four dates, and it’s coming off the date against Georgia. It’s the gear-it-up game – there’s no way the Ragin’ Cajuns can lose this game and win the Sun Belt title.
2015 Louisiana-Lafayette Fun Stats
– Interceptions Thrown: Louisiana-Lafayette 12 – Opponents 5
– Third Down Conversions: Opponents 77-of-182 (42.31%) – Louisiana-Lafayette 66-of-176 (37.5%)
– Fumbles: Opponents 17 (lost 6) – Louisiana-Lafayette 15 (lost 8)