South Alabama Looks To Sour Cajun Homecoming

October 30, 2014 · By · Filed Under Football, Sun Belt Conference 

Jags_vs_ULLSouth Alabama rides a four-game winning streak into Lafayette to face the Ragin’ Cajuns* on Saturday as their homecoming opponent. The Jaguars are just one win away from being the first Sun Belt team to reach bowl eligibility**. But this game is not a gimmie.

South Alabama began the season with a road win over Kent State, then tough losses to current #1 Mississippi State, and conference newcomer and Sun Belt leader Georgia Southern (6-2, 5-0 SBC), both at home. They responded with wins over Idaho, Appalachian State, Georgia State, and Troy which have a combined record of 5-25 overall and 3-14 in conference play. Not the best resume to hang your hat on.

The Jaguars schedule gets considerably more difficult in November. The Jags have games against Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Texas State, South Carolina in Columbia and the season finale against Navy which are a combined 16-14. But it all begins with Lafayette (4-3, 3-0 SBC).

USA is undefeated on the road and have been touting their 30-8 season finale win over Lafayette last season which spoiled the Cajuns outright championship and gave Arkansas State a share of the title. But the Cajuns were without star quarterback Terrance Broadway in that game. A win would have also given them the most wins in school history. In the end, it was Lafayette who ‘won’ as they were one of only two Sun Belt teams (the other was co-champion Arkansas State) to earn a bowl invite in a conference that had seven bowl-eligible teams.

A year later both teams are trying to keep up with Georgia Southern, but the Cajuns have revenge on their mind as they are set to host the Jaguars for a Homecoming matchup at Cajun Field.

The Cajuns have rebounded from losing three-consecutive games to win their last three games. Those three losses were against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Boise State. Not bad losses, mind you. The three wins came against Georgia State (okay, maybe not so good), Texas State and Arkansas State (both 4-3, 2-1 SBC). Not bad wins and it makes you glad that South Alabama does not have the word “State” in their name.

Lafayette cleared a big hurdle with a 55-40 win over Arkansas State last Tuesday. They have one of the easiest conference schedules of any Sun Belt team.Their remaining schedule begins with the Jaguars (5-2, 4-1 SBC) and continues with New Mexico State, ULM, Appalachian State and Troy which are a combined 8-22 overall and 5-10 in conference play. Only one of those last four has a real shot at being .500 or above for the season.

By the numbers

South Alabama brings one of the toughest defenses in the Sun Belt. They rank first in the conference in scoring defense (21.0 points per game allowed) and in the top-4 in most other key defensive statistical categories.

Offensively the Jaguars have struggled. What was thought to be a strength coming into the season, their passing game, has yet to perform consistently. The bright spot has been their rushing attack, which ranks sixth in the conference at 211.9 yards per game.

The Lafayette defense ranks around the middle of the pack, except for their pass defense which ranks last in the 11 team conference by allowing 268.4 yards per game.

Meanwhile the Cajun offense ranks towards the middle of the conference overall. The Cajuns identity is on the ground where they rank fourth in the conference whereas their passing offense ranks ninth.

Keys to the game

South Alabama’s rush defense against Lafayette’s rushing offense will be one of the key matchups in this game. A key statistic which may be worth noting is that Lafayette’s passing offense is ranked ninth in the conference and have eight interceptions on the season while the Jaguars passing defense ranks second in the conference and have five interceptions on the season.

Brandon Bridge and his receivers need to come out on the same page to take advantage of the Cajun’s lackluster pass defense. That would allow Kendall Houston, Xavier Johnson and Terrance Timmons more room to run. Especially since Houston is recharged and ready to pick up where Jay Jones left off and make the most of the remainder of his senior season.

Kendall Houston was the Jaguars workhorse against Troy. He started in place of the injured Jay Jones (ACL) and ran for a career-high 178 yards and a touchdown. He averaged a whopping 9.9 yards per carry. Xavier Johnson also rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown.

As with any game, turnovers  will be key. The turnover disparity between the two teams could determine who wins this game. South Alabama is +3 in turnovers while Lafayette is -7. The Cajuns have lost three fumbles and eight interceptions this season, but the defense does not create as many turnovers as it loses with only a fumble recovery and three interceptions on the season.

Who wants it more?

Both teams need this win to keep up with Georgia Southern. The Cajuns want to stay unbeaten in conference play to potentially share a conference championship if GSU also stays unbeaten (they don’t face each other this season). The Jaguars need to win out and get some help to have a chance to share or win the conference championship.

South Alabama plays well on the road, but Lafayette will be one of the toughest places to play this season. It could be a game that comes down to the final play or special teams. After a shaky start placekicker Aleem Sunanon has made five of his last six attempts, his longest being a pair of 43-yard kicks against Georgia State.

 

* What is the proper name for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette? Don’t Call them Louisiana-Lafayette or ULL else Cajun fans will correct you. But if you use UL, then you will get complaints from other fans.

The Sun Belt Media guide at one point encouraged using UL-L as an abbreviation after using the proper name. They are adamant about being called Louisiana but disputes between them and another large school in the state led to state law forcing other schools to use the municipality where they are located. UL, ULL, UL-L, UL Lafayette… I don’t know and neither do they!

** Georgia Southern has six wins and would be bowl eligible, but they are in their second year of transition from FCS to FBS and are not bowl eligible***.

*** Georgia Southern could still go to a bowl but it’s a long list of conditions depending on the number of bowl-eligible teams.

 

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