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Ragin’ Cajuns football looking to build off of high expectations

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team looks to build off a strong debut in 2018 for head coach Billy Napier when they open the 2019 season on Saturday, Aug. 31 against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The three-year drought of seasons ending with losing records and no postseason play for the Ragin’ Cajuns concluded in 2018 with a Sun Belt West Division Championship, an appearance in the AutoNation Cure Bowl, and a 7-7 overall record. With all of these accomplishments, there is hope for continued success in Napier’s second season as head coach.

According to the 2019 Sun Belt Football Coaches’ Preseason Poll, Louisiana is picked to win the Sun Belt West Division for the second straight year.

One of the expected keys for success for Louisiana in 2019 is the return of a strong rushing attack led by three running backs: redshirt junior Trey Ragas, junior Elijah Mitchell and senior Raymond Calais. The three players combined for 2,912 rushing yards on 433 carries with 28 touchdowns in 2018, leading one of the best rushing offenses in the country.

With the graduation of senior quarterback Andre Nunez, junior Levi Lewis is expected to lead the Louisiana offense that averaged 31.9 points per game in 2018. Lewis played in all 14 games in his sophomore season, completing 37 of his 59 passing attempts for 585 yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Also returning to the offense this season is 2018 leading receiver senior Ja’Marcus Bradley, who caught 40 passes for 608 yards and 10 touchdowns. With these key players returning on offense, Louisiana should score plenty of points in 2019.

The Ragin’ Cajuns defense experienced good performances sporadically throughout the 2018 season, but they got stronger toward the end of the season with some of their best games coming in losses on the road against the top teams of the Sun Belt, including two tough games against 2018 Sun Belt Champion Appalachian State.

In total, the defense allowed 34.2 points per game in 2018, down from the 40 points per game they allowed in 2017. The team returns senior linebacker Jacques Boudreaux who led the defense in total tackles with 93 in 2018.

The defensive line should be a strength for the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2019. They return redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill, senior defensive end Bennie Higgins, who was second on the 2018 team in sacks with four, and 2017 All-Third Team Sun Belt linebacker Joe Dillon who missed the 2018 season due to injury.

The Ragin’ Cajuns open the 2019 season with four nonconference matchups starting with Mississippi State before getting into the eight-game Sun Belt schedule.

Mississippi State is coming off of an 8-5 season in the SEC in head coach Joe Moorhead’s first season with the team. The Bulldogs lost three key defensive players in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and will start a new quarterback in 2019 after 2018 starter Nick Fitzgerald graduated.

Louisiana and Mississippi State met in week two of the 2018 season in Starkville, Mississippi. An overmatched Ragin’ Cajuns defense struggled, giving up 607 total yards and 49 unanswered points after Louisiana scored the first three points of the game. The Bulldogs went on to beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 56-10, giving Louisiana their first loss of the year.

Louisiana’s return to the postseason in 2018 combined with plenty of returning talent has the team going into 2019 with high expectations.

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