Louisiana will look to keep its perfect record away from Cajun Field intact when it travels to Coastal Carolina for a Sun Belt cross-divisional matchup on Thursday. This will conclude the Ragin' Cajuns' two-game midweek slate in 2019, while Coastal is playing its only midweek contest of the season.
Ever since a season-opening loss to Mississippi State by 10 points on Aug. 31, the Ragin' Cajuns (6-2, 3-1) have been on a roll, losing only once since the calendar flipped to September. Louisiana has won six of its last seven games, including a 31-3 victory over Texas State coming off a bye week. The Chanticleers (4-4, 1-3), meanwhile, entered last week winless in Sun Belt play but picked up their first conference W in thrilling fashion, beating Troy, 36-35, at home. The calendar has presented a roller coaster of sorts for the Chanticleers, who lost their only game in August, won three of four in September, and lost both October games before kicking off November with a win.
Coastal still has a shot at a bowl game but needs to win two of its final four to be considered for a postseason berth. Louisiana is already bowl eligible, the second time in as many seasons under head coach Billy Napier.
Thursday will mark just the second-ever meeting between Louisiana and Coastal, with the Chanticleers barely edging out the Ragin' Cajuns 30-28 in Lafayette last year.
Louisiana at Coastal Carolina
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Louisiana -14
When Louisiana Has the Ball
The hallmark of the Ragin’ Cajuns offense continues to be its rushing attack. When the only teams with a better per-game average are military academies, Louisiana is clearly doing something right on the ground. Through eight games, only Navy (357.9) and Air Force (323.1) have a better yards-per-game mark than Louisiana’s 288.0, a few ticks above Power 5 leader Ohio State’s 284.3 yards rushing per game.
The dual-speared attack of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell continues to cause all sorts of havoc for opposing defenses. Ragas’ 8.4 yards per carry leads the conference and is No. 2 in the FBS, while Mitchell’s 12 rushing touchdowns lead the Sun Belt and rank eighth nationally. The two have combined for 1,303 rushing yards this season and provide as good a security blanket as any for quarterback Levi Lewis, who sits middle of the pack in most stats but does find himself second in the Sun Belt with 12.1 yards per completion, narrowly behind the 12.2 per-completion average posted by Troy’s Kaleb Barker.
Just like the Chanticleers’ record has been a mixed bag of sorts, their defense largely resembles that as well. Allowing just 175.5 yards passing per game, Coastal sits inside the top 10 in that category and will likely compel Lewis to rely even more on his potent rushing attack. Coastal doesn’t do a great job of causing pressure, though, sitting in the bottom half of the FBS in both sacks and tackles for loss. Additionally, opponents have scored on 21 of 24 red zone trips against Coastal this season, with that 8.5 percent conversion rate among the bottom 30 in the FBS.
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
One of the best ways to aid a defense’s productivity is by limiting the time it spends on the field, and Coastal does just that by leading the Sun Belt with an average time of possession of 32:26. While the passing game is far from prolific at just 211.0 yards per game, the Chanticleers average 33.0 points per game, which is a top-50 mark in the FBS. Interestingly enough, the Chanticleers’ lowest-scoring output so far in 2019 came against Kansas — the only FBS Power 5 opponent they will see all season — who lost despite holding Coastal to just 12 points in Lawrence on Sept. 7.
Shoulder injuries are often toughest on quarterbacks, and an injury to quarterback Fred Payton has allowed Bryce Carpenter to step up in his absence. In five games this season — three of which came after the Payton injury — Carpenter has thrown for 648 yards and rushed for 310 more, accounting for eight total touchdowns (seven passing) with no interceptions. CJ Marable has been the workhorse on the ground for Coastal, averaging 4.8 yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns, none bigger than his score and 2-point conversion in the final closing seconds of the win over Troy.
In seven games since losing to Mississippi State, the Ragin’ Cajuns have not allowed any opponent to score more than 25 points, posting a 6-1 record in that span with Appalachian State securing the only win. Louisiana’s 18.4 points allowed per game — down from its mark of 20.7 two weeks ago after holding opponents to a total of 23 points over the last two games — continues to lead the Sun Belt and is within the top-20 nationally. That comes despite repeated struggles in tackles for loss and essentially average turnover margin and sacks.
Louisiana has been stout defensively throughout much of the season and pairs that with a dominant ground game, while Coastal has been strong against the pass but less so against the run. This one should be closer than many believe, especially if Bryce Carpenter continues to play efficiently for the Chanticleers and helps keep the Ragin' Cajuns' offense off the field.
Prediction: Louisiana 30, Coastal Carolina 23
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of Louisiana Athletics)