2015 CFB Preview – Louisiana-Lafayette

    Louisiana Ragin' CajunsGo to Team Page Ragin' CajunsGo to Selection Page           If Mark Hudspeth isn’t the best college

    July 1, 2015

    Louisiana
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    If Mark Hudspeth isn’t the best college football head coach America has never heard of, he’s in the team photo.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    All the guy has done is come off of four straight seasons with ten-plus wins at North Alabama before diving into the Louisiana gig and turning into the model of consistency. Four straight 9-4 years with four straight bowl wins with one Sun Belt title has turned him into a tremendous prospect, but he hasn’t moved yet.

    It was still a bit of a shock last year when the bigger job offers didn’t come in, but considering he’s only going to be 47 this football season, and with the way he has won everywhere he has been, that’s about to change.

    He has a team returning to get to nine wins – at least – only this time with a Sun Belt title to go along with them.

    Last year’s squad was strong, but if the quarterback play can be okay, this year’s team should be even better with RB Elijah McGuire and WR Jamal Robinson two of the best players in the conference working behind a terrific offensive front.

    The defense that stuffed Nevada cold in the New Orleans Bowl win only gets back five starters, and it loses most of the top tacklers and pass rushers, but under Hudspeth’s reign the production has been consistently okay. The D has always been good enough to get by so the offense can do its thing.

    You know what you’re getting now out of the Ragin’ Cajuns. They’re going to be fun, they’re going to play a lot of interesting games, and they’re going to be in the mix for the Sun Belt title again.

    And they’re going to be very, very well coached.

    What to watch for on offense: Just how much offensive balance can there be? The offense has two terrific receiving options in Jamal Robinson and Al Riles, but it’s going to be way too tempting not to keep feeding the ball to Elijah McGuire – the Sun Belt Player of the Year back who ran for 7.6 yards per carry. The quarterbacks have to help the cause for the ground game, too, and a second back has to emerge to take the place of Alonzo Harris – who led the team in carries – considering the team only threw for 192 yards per game last year, but was 62nd in the nation in passing efficiency, the O has to do more than hand off.

    What to watch for on defense: It’s time for the secondary to produce. A problem last season allowing 200 yards or more in every game buy three, and giving up two touchdown passes or more five times, the defensive backs didn’t do enough to hold up. There were three interceptions against New Mexico State, but just four picks in the other 12 games. With three starters returning, led by SS Tracy Walker, the secondary has to be the strength of a rebuilding defense. That would be a first in the Hudspeth era.

    The team will be far better if … the run defense holds up. The Ragin’ Cajuns try to win with the ground game, but they have to control the action. That’s a problem when the defensive front is getting pounded on – which wasn’t an issue too often last season. However, the D gave up 200 rushing yards or more in all four losses, going 1-4 when getting gouged, and 8-0 when allowing fewer. Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, Boise State and Appalachian State all ran well, and they all won. In the Mark Hudspeth era, Louisiana is 2-10 when allowing 200 rushing yards or more 34-6 when allowing fewer.

    The schedule: Can the Ragin’ Cajuns make a huge early statement with a win at Kentucky? After getting lit up by Louisiana Tech last year 48-20, that’s hardly an easy road game, but Northwestern State and Akron are manageable home dates to get the pre-Sun Belt non-conference games out of the way.
    – It’s going to be a tough second half stretch with three road games in four dates, and two of them coming within five days facing Georgia State on the road before going to South Alabama for a Thursday night battle.
    – The two biggest games are on the road – at Arkansas State on a Thursday night and a late November date at Appalachian State. A split is a must to have any hope of winning the Sun Belt title.
    – There aren’t back-to-back home games after the Akron game in late September. Unfortunately, the team needs to get rested up then with an off-week coming in between the two home tilts.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the Northwestern State game. It’s supposed to be an easy layup on paper, but it’s an interesting in-state game against a Demons team that might not be too bad. It’s a long-time series with Louisiana only holding a 37-35-3 all-time lead.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: The attack has to replace quarterback Terrence Broadway and key runner Alonzo Harris, but Sun Belt Player of the Year Elijah McGuire is back to work the offense around. The line, as always, should be among the best in the conference, and the passing attack should be a bit more productive – maybe. Top targets Jamal Robinson is back after missing most of last year hurt, combining with Al Riles to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a dangerous tandem, but who will throw to them? Brooks Haack has the experience as the backup behind Broadway, but it’ll be a battle for the starting gig.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: As always, the D needs to try holding serve for the O, but it could be a bit rockier this year. The front seven needs work after losing top pass rusher Christian Ringo and key part Justin Hamilton, and now the line has to find ways to get into the backfield. Dominique Tovell is a nice veteran linebacker, but he needs help around him with two starters gone. The secondary that’s been such a problem needs to be a strength early on with three starters back, but it has to start keeping passing games under 200 yards and has to find ways to make more big plays.

    Best offensive player: Junior RB Elijah McGuire. One of college football’s most dangerous producers every time he gets the ball in his hands, he’s not a blazer, and he’s not going to blast away, but he has a 7.9 career yard-per-carry average with great hands in the open field and the ability to hit the home run. Can he be more of a workhorse? The goal is to keep him from having to run the ball over 200 times and to keep him effective, but when he’s on, and when he’s the main for the attack, everything works.

    Best defensive player: Senior LB Dominique Tovell. A good-sized hitter who has worked his way into all-star status, he followed up a 67 tackles season with 71 stops last year while growing into more of a pass rusher. With almost all the key parts gone from the front seven, he’ll have to be even more of a producer and even more dangerous in the backfield. He has the experience and talent to be a statistical force.

    Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Brooks Haack. The quarterback competition is still wide open, with junior Jalen Nixon and redshirt freshman Jordan Davis all being given an equal shot, but Haack has the inside track – even if it’s a slight lead. The main backup over the last few years to Terrance Broadway, he knows what he’s doing in the offense, and he even has a little starting experience. The quarterback in this offense has to run a bit and throw efficiently. Getting the ball down the field to open things up is a must on a consistent basis.

    The season will be a success if … Louisiana wins ten games and a Sun Belt title. After four straight nine-win seasons, there’s little room for massive improvement. The defense has to replace too many key parts to expect miracles, and going on the road to Arkansas State and Appalachian State will make it tough, but winning nine regular season games for the ultra-consistent program is doable. A fifth-straight bowl victory will be a must to get to ten wins.

    Key game: Oct. 20 at Arkansas State. With the toughest road stretch of the season coming up, and with a date at Appalachian State still to deal with, the Ragin’ Cajuns can’t give away the Thursday night game against Arkansas State. Last year’s 55-40 win was one of the best games of the Sun Belt season, and now Louisiana has to do it again.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Second Quarter Scoring: 113 – Third Quarter Scoring: 64
    – Red Zone Scores: Louisiana 52-of-57 (91%) – Opponents 33-45 (73%)
    – Fumbles: Opponents 18 (lost 10) – Louisiana 9 (lost 5)

    Players You Need To Know

    1. RB Elijah McGuire, Jr.
    Alonzo Harris was the veteran star and one of the main men for the ground game, and he did his part with 807 yards and 12 scores, but it was McGuire who earned Sun Belt Player of the Year honors for doing everything for the high-powered offense. The 5-11, 198-pounder tore off 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry, caught a team-leading 45 passes for 468 yards and two touchdowns, and returned 15 punts averaging 7.73 yards per try. Fast, slippery and powerful, he cranked off 265 yards and four touchdowns against Arkansas State, and ran for over 100 yards in five games, but he was inconsistent, rushing for under 70 yards in six games. Not really a workhorse, he’s not going to carry the load, but he’s fantastic whenever he gets the ball in his hands.

    2. WR Jamal Robinson, Sr.
    The 6-4, 205-pound veteran appeared ready to become special after a 54-catch, 862-yard, eight score 2013, but he couldn’t stay healthy. He blew up to start the season with 15 catches for 260 yards and four scores, but he suffered foot and knee injuries to knock him out for the year. Fortunately, he was able to get a medical redshirt to come back to be the strong deep threat to help make the passing game roll. His returns takes the offense to another level.

    3. OT Mykhael Quave, Sr.
    Someone had to pave the way for high-powered running game, and Quave was one of the key parts earning Second Team All-Sun Belt honors as the star at left tackle. At 6-5 and 295 pounds he’s not massive, but he’s great on the move and he’s tough to get around. Able to play almost anywhere on the line, he started out his career at guard, but with his quickness, size and athleticism he’s great on the outside.

    4. LB Dominique Tovell, Sr.
    Part linebacker, part defensive end, he spent last year on the weakside and turned in a huge season, making 67 tackles with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. The 6-2, 248-pounder made nine tackles against Troy and was steady throughout the season, coming up with just enough plays behind the line to make offenses worry. A key part of the defensive puzzle over the last few years, he knows what he’s doing and should be one of the Sun Belt’s best all-around hybrid defenders.

    5. OG Donovan Williams, Sr.
    The 6-3, 315-pound former JUCO transfer is a smart, tough blaster who spent last season at left guard next to Mykhael Quave to form a nasty run blocking side. Can he move to tackle if needed? Maybe, but he’s better suited to the inside where he’s a strong interior blocker who grew into the job last year. He’ll be an all-star this season.

    6. SS Tracy Walker, Soph.
    While not really built like a strong safety, the 6-2, 180-pounder can hit a little bit with 43 tackles and 35 in the open field. With two picks, he can make a few plays when the ball is in the air, but he’s really more vital against ground games. A great all-around athlete, he’s one of the team’s fastest players with the size to play anywhere in the secondary.

    7. QB Brooks Haack, Jr.
    Terrance Broadway might not have come up with the senior year many expected, but he was still a heart-and-soul leader for the offense. Now it’s likely up to Haack to take over and be the main man after seeing a little time in mop-up duty. He took target practice when he got his chances, completing 20-of-23 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, and he can run a little bit, too. The longtime understudy should be ready to roll, with 6-1, 219-pound size and good enough skills to come up with a good year. He won’t have to bomb away, but he knows the offense and should be tremendously effective with a little time to work.

    8. LB Tre’maine Lightfoot, Jr.
    Even though he missed the first part of the season thanks to rules violations, he turned into one of the team’s top defenders making 29 tackles manning the middle of the linebacking corps. At 6-0 and 230 pounds he’s built for the position with good bulk and pure tackling skills. He’s a decent athlete, but he’s at his best holding up in between the hash marks.

    9. OT Octravian Anderson, Sr.
    While he hasn’t received the attention of some of the other key parts on the line, he’s held down the fort at right tackle for the last two years. At 6-4 and 295 pound he has decent size, and he knows what he’s doing. Just quick enough to move to the left side if needed, he’s versatile and dependable – pencil him into the depth chart and don’t worry about him.

    10. WR Al Riles, Sr.
    With James Butler gone, Riles has to become a top target after coming up with 34 catches for 354 yards and a score. At 5-10 and 209 pounds he’s a good-sized receiver who can get physical, and he has the track speed to start stretching the field more. Banged up early in his career, and a secondary option last season, now he has to blossom with Jamal Robinson returning.

    Head Coach: Mark Husdpeth
    5th year: 36-16
    12th year overall: 102-37
    Schedule
    Sept. 5 at Kentucky
    Sept. 12 NW State
    Sept. 19 OPEN DATE
    Sept. 26 Akron
    Oct. 3 at Louisiana Tech
    Oct. 10 Texas State
    Oct. 17 OPEN DATE
    Oct. 20 at Arkansas State
    Oct. 31 ULM
    Nov. 7 at Georgia State
    Nov. 12 at South Alabama
    Nov. 21 New Mexico St
    Nov. 28 at Appalachian St
    Dec. 5 Troy
    Ten Best Louisiana Players
    1. RB Elijah McGuire, Jr.
    2. WR Jamal Robinson, Sr.
    3. OT Mykhael Quave, Sr.
    4. LB Dominique Tovell, Sr.
    5. OG Donovan Williams, Sr.
    6. SS Tracy Walker, Soph.
    7. QB Brooks Haack, Jr.
    8. LB Tre’maine Lightfoot, Jr.
    9. OT Octravian Anderson, Sr.
    10. WR Al Riles, Sr.

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