We are going with a unique route this week with the Q&A with an opposing beat writer. Cody Junot serves as the ESPN 1420 sideline reporter for Louisiana football, and he is a contributor for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. He stopped by to answer five questions about Louisiana and an additional one about what to do while in Lafayette this weekend. For his coverage of the Ragin’ Cajuns, follow him on Twitter @CJunot.
Now onto the Q&A:
N&A: The talk this week at Liberty has been slowing down Louisiana's three-headed running attack of Trey Ragas, Raymond Calais, and Elijah Mitchell. Not many places are able to utilize a rotation like that as successfully as Louisiana. What makes each back so dynamic, and how do each figure into the gameplan heading into this weekend's matchup with Liberty?
CJ: I think the thing that gives opposing coaches the most concern when trying to defend the Cajuns trio of running backs is that no matter which of the three is on the field you can’t eliminate a play type. Trey Ragas would technically be considered Louisiana’s inside back, but he’s got enough speed to turn the corner on a sweep or outside run. Raymond Calais, the speedster of the bunch, isn’t afraid to hit the hole inside and the staff isn’t afraid to give him the ball in short-yardage situations. Elijah Mitchell is the combo back -- he’s got more power than Calais and more speed than Ragas. All three backs can also catch the ball out of the backfield, though Mitchell and Calais are probably preferred in that role.
The ability of the three backs to be on the field at any time and not necessarily dictate what the play call will be is something that allows head coach and play-caller Billy Napier to be creative when dialing up the game plan.
N&A: What is the status of the Ragin' Cajuns' offensive line, which entered the season with an immense amount of experience?
CJ: Coming into the 2019 season, Louisiana was expected to have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. The Cajuns were slated to return all five starters from a season ago, a group which had tallied 130 combined starts.
But center Cole Prudhomme went down in spring practice, and on Saturday, UL lost left guard Ken Marks. Marks will miss the rest of the season. The injuries have forced the Cajuns to turn to redshirt sophomore Shane Vallot at center and a combination of sophomore Max Mitchell and O’Cyrus Torrence at left guard. Mitchell will also rotate with senior Rico Robinson at left tackle.
So, while the experience may not be there with the absences of Prudhomme and Marks, coach Napier and offensive line coach and coordinator Rob Sale fell the team is deep along the line and don’t expect a drop in play from the unit.
N&A: Quarterback Levi Lewis didn't look fazed against the Mississippi State defense. What has been his biggest progression since splitting time last season with Andre Nunez, and how do you think he will be utilized against Liberty?
CJ: Saturday’s season opener against Mississippi State didn’t get off to the best start as Levi Lewis’ first pass was intercepted. Later in the quarter, he threw a lateral to receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley that skipped the group and was then recovered by the Bulldogs. After that, he seemed to settle down, but there were still a few throws that were missed.
With that said, he was able to use his feet to keep some plays alive and give his guys time to get open and make plays down the field. I think the biggest thing with Lewis is just consistency. Last season’s experience allowed him to learn the playbook; now UL will look for consistent execution.
The Cajuns will use Lewis in a similar fashion to how he was used last week. Expect coach Napier to move the pocket and take shots down the field, especially if UL is able to establish its running game.
N&A: What is the strength of the Ragin' Cajuns defense? Who are players to watch out for?
CJ: The big question mark on defense heading into the season was along the Louisiana front. You saw flashes from the group on Saturday, but you also saw missed assignments and poor gap play. If the Cajuns can sure up the front line it will allow linebackers Jacques Boudreaux, the leading returning tackler from a season ago, and Ferrod Gardner to stay free and make tackles.
Besides Boudreaux and Gardner, Liberty fans should also keep an eye on end Chauncey Manac, outside linebackers Kris Moncrief and Joe Dillion, and corner Eric Garror. In UL’s 3-4 base defense, Manac will lineup on one side with either Moncrief or Dillion opposite. The trio will look use their speed to get to the quarterback allowing defensive coordinator Ron Roberts to play coverage and not be forced to blitz.
In the secondary, Garror, a sophomore has emerged as one of the Cajuns top cover men.
N&A: What does Louisiana need to do in order to win Saturday night?
CJ: Looking back at the season opener, it’s hard for UL fans not to wonder what if. Louisiana turned the ball over multiple times and allowed Mississippi State to rush for 261 yards while only running for 164 yards themselves. Despite all that, the Cajuns found themselves down just 7 points with under 3 minutes to play.
The formula for a Cajuns win on Saturday consists of holding on the ball, rushing the ball effectively, and stopping the run. The UL offense is still the strength of the ball club and the ability to control the clock with keep the Cajuns defense fresh in what should be hot and humid conditions.
Consistent play from quarterback Levi Lewis will also go a long way in helping Louisiana on Saturday night.
N&A: This is Liberty's first trip to Louisiana. For fans making the trip to Lafayette for the weekend, do you have any recommendations for local restaurants or bars that those fans won't be able to find anywhere else? Do you have any suggestions for things to do in the area?
CJ: Oh man, where to start? I don’t think we have enough room or time to list all of the establishments Liberty fans should visit while in town! For fans looking for authentic Cajun food, I’d suggest Bon Temps Grill, Blue Dog Café, or Prejean’s. Then, of course, there’s Olde Tyme Grocery and Pop’s Poboys. The list can go on and on!
One more piece of advice: Don’t show up to Cajun Field on a full stomach as everywhere you turn, you’ll be offered home-cooked food, ranging from bar-b-que to gumbo, etouffee, or jambalaya and everything in between.
Lastly, before heading to the game, make sure you stop by one of the several drive-through daiquiri shops. Yes, you read that right, drive-through daiquiri, it’s Louisiana after all! Pick yourself up a refreshing drink if you’re into that sort of thing and enjoy the festivities.