The 2014 bowl season will kick off in the Big Easy with UL Lafayette taking on Nevada in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. This marks the fourth straight season UL Lafayette will end its season playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as the Ragin’ Cajuns have won the past three New Orleans Bowls. For Nevada this represents the Wolf Pack’s ninth bowl invite in the past 10 years.
UL Lafayette (8-4) is in search of its fourth straight nine-win season under coach Mark Hudspeth, who is sure to get a look for one of the current openings among the Power 5 schools. The Ragin’ Cajuns are a perfect 3-0 in bowl games under Hudspeth, with all three victories coming in the New Orleans Bowl. UL Lafayette beat Tulane 24-21 last season with its previous two New Orleans Bowl victories coming against East Carolina (43-34, 2012) and San Diego State (32-30, ’11).
Nevada (7-5) is back in a bowl game after last season’s 4-8 record ended a streak of eight consecutive postseason appearances. In his second season as head coach of the Wolf Pack since taking over for Hall of Famer Chris Ault, Brian Polian is hoping to snap the team’s two-game losing streak in bowls. Nevada’s last victory in a bowl game was a 20-13 win over Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011.
This will be just the second game ever between UL Lafayette and Nevada. The Wolf Pack defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns 38-14 on their own turf (Reno, Nev.) back on Sept. 2, 1995 when both programs were in the Big West Conference.
Nevada vs. UL Lafayette
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: UL Lafayette -1
Nevada’s Key to Victory: Unleash Cody Fajardo
A senior, the New Orleans Bowl will represent Fajardo’s 43rd and final career start as the starting quarterback. One of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation; Fajardo is one of two players (Colin Kaepernick) in FBS history with 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career. This season, he’s 25th nationally in total offense (280.9 ypg) with 997 yards rushing (most on the team) and 2,374 yards passing, while accounting for 31 total touchdowns (18 passing, 13 rushing). He’s clearly the engine that makes the Wolf Pack’s offense hum and no doubt would like to end his run with the team on a winning note. Fajardo did not perform well in his previous two bowl games, both losses, so he has one final chance to change this part of his collegiate resume. Fajardo may be a California native, but he’s hoping to be a big hit in New Orleans in his final game for the Wolf Pack.
UL Lafayette’s Key to Victory: Stay Grounded
The Ragin’ Cajuns have made plenty of noise on the ground this season. They enter this game ranked 25th in FBS in rushing offense at 229.4 yards rushing per game. The big ground-gainer has been Elijah McGuire. A sophomore, McGuire is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and put up 265 on the ground in a win over Arkansas State. McGuire has been complemented in the running game by senior Alonzo Harris (737 yards, 12 TDs) and quarterback Terrance Broadway (4.9 ypc). Whoever ever carries the ball for UL Lafayette should find success against a Nevada rushing defense that’s given up nearly 180 yards per game. The Wolf Pack have really struggled in this department recently, as each of their past three opponents have run for at least 200 yards, including 342 by Air Force. An effective running game also could help the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense by eating up clock and also keeping Cody Fajardo and Nevada’s offense off of the field, limiting their opportunities. Sometimes a team’s best defense can be its offense. If that indeed is the case, expect UL Lafayette to stay grounded against the Wolf Pack.
Not surprisingly, UL Lafayette has made itself at home in the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in and won each of the past three “minor” bowl games played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mark Hudspeth’s team actually has a lot of confidence playing in the Big Easy, but Nevada doesn’t figure to be intimidated. More importantly, the Wolf Pack have Cody Fajardo, one of the nation’s most productive dual-threat quarterbacks, who just needs a bowl victory to polish off his impressive resume. UL Lafayette has home-field advantage and a potent rushing attack, but Nevada has the best player. In his final game for the Wolf Pack, I’ll take Fajardo to overcome the Cajuns’ home cooking and finish his collegiate career on a winning note.