Two-a-Days rolls on with our 12th installment, in which we take a closer look at the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.
To read previous entries, click HERE.
Louisiana-Lafayette in a flash:
Head Coach: Rickey Bustle, ninth year
2009 Record: 6-6 (4-4 Sun Belt)
2009 Stats: Total offense, 361.75 ypg (6th Sun Belt, 76th nationally); Total defense, 404.33 (4th Sun Belt, 92nd nationally)
Starters Returning: Offense (5), Defense (8), Special Teams (2)
Key Player Losses: DE Hall Davis, OL Brad Bustle, RB Undrea Sails, TE Luke Aubrey
Big Games: @ Georgia (9/4), Oklahoma State (10/8), @ Troy (10/16), @ Ole Miss (11/6)
Non-Conference Slate: @ Georgia (9/4), Oklahoma State (10/8), @ Ohio (10/30), @ Ole Miss (11/6)
There will be plenty mystery on the field at Sanford Stadium when Georgia opens the 2010 season on Sept. 4, not the least of which will involve the Bulldogs' opponent. So, to get some background on ULL, I turned to Joshua Parrott, who covers the Cajuns for The (Lafayette) Advertiser. Here's what he had to say...
David Hale: ULL knocked off Kansas State last year and played a close game against Illinois two seasons ago, so it's not unreasonable to assume that the Cajuns can be competitive with some of the bigger-conference teams. Do the players approach these games differently than they would a Sun Belt game? What's their confidence level like looking ahead to an opener against Georgia?
Joshua Parrott: No, the players and coaches don't really prepare any differently than they do for a Sun Belt Conference game. But they do understand that it's an opportunity to make a statement on a national level. The win over Kansas State opened a lot of people's eyes and could have been a springboard to bigger things to come, but the Cajuns couldn't get past that six-win hump. Their confidence is high going into the Georgia game. The entire coaching staff remained intact - only the second time that's happened under coach Bustle. Almost the entire starting defense is back. Some key offensive weapons return. A few newcomers will likely get on the field right away. Past players thought they had a chance against Kansas State and Illinois (both two years ago) and some of the bigger-name programs. The current players KNOW it's a possibility because they made it happened against a Kansas State team that would have played in a bowl game if not for a scheduling mistake that left them with two DI-A games.
DH: Georgia will be trotting out a new starting QB and a brand new defensive scheme in its opener against ULL. Do the Cajuns' coaches see this as an opportunity to potentially exploit some early jitters by the Bulldogs and make it into a more competitive game than we might think? How much -- if at all -- has UGA been talked about already?
JP: Personally, I think the Cajuns can find a way to win all of their non-conference games in 2010 (at Georgia, Oklahoma St on ESPN2, at Ohio and at Ole Miss). Each of those teams lost some vital pieces from last year. The timing could benefit the Cajuns because it's the first game for a new quarterback and defense. Whether an upset is reality depends on whether the Cajuns play strong defense, generate some offense and win the turnover battle. The Bulldogs will face a fast, aggressive Cajun defense with eight returning starters. That unit can force turnovers and ranked among the national leaders last season in interceptions. That will be a challenge for a young college quarterback to handle. Georgia will still be a heavy favorite, but crazy things have happened in the past.
DH: Obviously most Georgia fans aren't particularly knowledgeable about ULL, so can you tell us a few names on each side of the ball to keep an eye out for?
JP: On offense, the Cajuns have been known for running the ball in recent years, but now they're much more balanced. Junior quarterback Chris Masson returns for his second year as a starter. He's a solid pass-first, run-second QB. Junior tight end Ladarius Green is a former basketball player and has the potential to be an All-American before he leaves school due to his play-making ability. Senior receiver Marlin Miller is fast but has to become more consistent game-in, game-out. The defense is led by senior linebackers Grant Fleming and Daylon McCoy and cornerbacks Dwight Bentley and Orkeys Auriene. Fleming shifts over to the middle for his final year after starting on the strongside and has pro potential. McCoy moved from safety a few years ago and is an undersized playmaker. Bentley and Auriene are strong cover corners and multi-year starters. The Cajuns play their best players on special teams, too. It's one of the reasons why they rank third nationally since 2002 in blocked kicks with 41, trailing only Fresno State (48) and Texas (46).
DH: Having seen ULL this spring, are there any major question marks we should keep an eye on when the fall rolls around that could dictate how competitive the opening game in Athens will be?
JP: The Cajuns definitely have some questions going into the fall. The offensive line lost two first team all-conference players (Chris Fisher and Brad Bustle) on the offensive line and a multi-year starter at left tackle. Ian Burks moves to center after starting three years at right guard, and Jonathan Decoster will be a four-year starter at right tackle. But the three other spots up front will be filled by new faces, including two sophomores. A number of veteran receivers are back, but someone has to emerge as a consistent threat to take the heat off Green and give Masson more options. The starting tailback job is open, with junior Julian Shankle trying to fight off three-star recruit Rob Walker, junior college signee Kevis Streeter and ex-Texas Tech commitment Aaron Spikes from Dallas. Offensively, the Cajuns have to score more points than last season (22.2 ppg). Some big-play guys need to emerge for that happen. The defense returns a lot but must find a way to generate a better pass rush and give up fewer big plays in key situations. Injuries at certain spots (quarterback Michael Desormeaux and linebacker two years ago; running back Undrea Sails, tight end Ladarius Green and both safety spots last year) have also played a role in late-season struggles over the past few years. The Cajuns have more quality depth now and hope to avoid similar injury woes this year.
I'm guessing no one will be predicting the upset, but how confident are you that the Dawgs can treat ULL as a tune up and have the QB and the defense on a roll by the time they head to South Carolina in Week 2? What's the minimum margin of victory you'd need to see in order to feel confident following the Dawgs' date with the Cajuns?
And don't forget, we'll be wrapping up Two-A-Days with an in-depth look at Georgia, so if you have questions you want answered, leave them in the comments section here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.NEXT UP: The down-low on Arkansas on Wednesday morning.