Countdown to Kickoff: Louisiana enters 2018 looking to find old success
From 2011-2014, head coach Mark Hudspeth had Louisiana rolling.
The Ragin’ Cajuns enjoyed four straight 9-4 seasons and three New Orleans Bowl wins. Louisiana claimed the top ranked recruiting class in the Sun Belt in 2013 and 2015, according to 247Sports.
But the Ragin’ Cajuns took a downward turn in 2015. Louisiana finished the 2015 campaign with a 4-8 record. In 2016, the Cajuns made it back to the New Orleans Bowl but lost 28-21 to Southern Mississippi and finished the year with a 6-7 record. A 5-7 season in 2017 marked the end of Hudspeth’s tenure in Lafayette, La.
The Cajuns hired Billy Napier to lead them back to their previous success during this decade. Napier comes to Lafayette after serving Arizona State in 2017 as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Before 2017, Napier spent four seasons at Alabama as the Crimson Tide’s wide receivers coach.
Napier looks to lead Louisiana back to the success it had from 2011-14.
Napier inherits an offense that was in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt in 2017. The Cajuns finished the season at No. 6 in the conference in both scoring offense (28.2 points per game) and total offensive (398.5 yards per game).
Louisiana’s running game helped the offense last season. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished No. 3 in the Sun Belt and No. 43 in the nation in rushing offense with 183.7 yards per game. Louisiana has its leading rusher return in Trey Ragas, who ran for 813 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017.
While the running game was successful for the Cajuns in 2017, the passing game wasn’t great. Louisiana finished No. 9 in the Sun Belt in passing offense with 214.8 yards per game. But the Ragin’ Cajuns never found stability at quarterback last season. Louisiana began the season with Jordan Davis as its starting signal caller but he went down with a knee injury during the middle of the year. Andre Nunez took over, but he only played two games before his season ended due to a concussion. The Cajuns stripped freshman Levi Lewis’ redshirt and had him take over for Nunez. But Lewis suffered a sprained ankle, and Louisiana ended the year with Lewis sharing time with Davis.
Davis transferred after the spring and now it’ll be between Nunez and Lewis for the starting role.
Defensively, Louisiana was bad last season. The Ragin’ Cajuns finished the season 11th in the Sun Belt and No. 123 in the nation in total defense. Louisiana gave up 492.7 yards per game and 39.2 points per game in 2017.
The Cajuns have a handful of key returners on the defense. Junior defensive end Joe Dillon, safety Travis Crawford, defensive backs Corey Turner and Koa Haynes and senior linebackers Justin Middleton and Tommy Whitted.
Louisiana has nowhere to go but up after a rough year on defense in 2017.
ESPN’s Football Power Index predicts the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a worst year in 2018 with a predicted 3-9 record.
Louisiana begins the season against Grambling on Sept. 1. The Ragin' Cajuns continue the season against Mississippi State on Sept. 8, Coastal Carolina on Sept. 15 and Alabama on Sept. 29.
Louisiana takes on Texas State on Saturday, Oct. 6 inside Bobcat Stadium. Kickoff time is still to be determined.