Who: Louisiana (6-2, 3-1 Sun Belt Conference) at Coastal Carolina (4-4, 1-3)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Brooks Stadium, Conway
Occasion: Military/First Responders Appreciation
TV: Live on ESPNU
Radio: WRNN 99.5 FM
Live stats: Through coastal.statbroadcast.com and GameTracker
Coastal 30-28 on Sept. 22, 2018 in Lafayette, La.
Strength: Pass defense
Weakness: Offensive line depth
Strength: Rushing offense
Weakness: Place kicking
Coastal Carolina’s defensive front seven vs. Louisiana’s top three running backs: CCU will have to slow down Louisiana’s relentless running game or create turnovers to have a realistic chance to win. Louisiana has the top offense in the Sun Belt at 491 yards per game led by the top rushing attack that averages 288 yards to rank third nationally, behind only Navy and Air Force. Louisiana ranks third in the nation in yards per carry at 6.74 behind only Oklahoma (7.05) and Clemson (6.97). The Ragin’ Cajuns have three running backs that rank in the top-10 in the Sun Belt in rushing yards and rushing yards per game this season in Elijah Mitchell (705 yards., 88.1 yards per game), Trey Ragas (598 yards., 85.4 ypg) and Raymond Calais (547 yds., 68.4 ypg). Mitchell also leads the league with 12 rushing touchdowns and in scoring with an average of nine points per outing.
Coastal was solid against the run against Troy on Saturday, allowing 115 yards on 32 carries, but allowed a combined 649 yards rushing in its previous two games against Georgia Southern and Georgia State out of its 3-4 base defense that often offers multiple looks. The Chants will likely need some tackles in the running game from the secondary to limit Louisiana’s gains. “They have three backs that are really, really good and then their quarterbacks can run as well,” CCU coach Jamey Chadwell said. “They’re big up front and they get after you. Then they’ve got big, tall receivers so when you try to load the box up they can hit you deep. They’re probably the most physical offense that we’ve seen so far this year.”
Players to watch
Junior running back C.J. Marable (6-1, 206): He leads the Chants with 596 yards rushing on 123 attempts (4.8 yards per carry) and is second in receptions and receiving yards with 26 for 268 and three TDs.
Sophomore quarterback Bryce Carpenter (6-1, 200): The 2017 Florida Mr. Football completed 32 of 45 passes for 285 yards Saturday against Troy to come within two receptions of a single-game school record, and has yet to throw an interception this season in 94 attempts.
Senior nose tackle Sterling Johnson (6-4, 280): He leads the team with 8 tackles for loss among his 31 total tackles, is tied for second with 8 quarterback hurries and has blocked a kick, and he’ll be relied upon to clog the middle Thursday.
Junior quarterback Levi Lewis (5-10, 190): He provides balance to the offense, completing 63.9 percent (122 of 191) of his passes this season for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also rushing for 102 yards and two TDs.
Junior running back Trey Ragas (5-10, 218): He ranks second in the nation with 8.42 yards per carry, gaining 598 yards with seven TDs on 71 carries.
Junior linebacker Joe Dillon (6-3, 218): One of five players on the Cajuns defense with at least 4.5 tackles for loss, he leads the team with six quarterback hurries and 3.5 sacks among his 23 total tackles, and has forced a fumble.
He said it
“We’ve been on a little bit of a run here in terms of non-traditional game preps and this will be the biggest challenge of them all in my opinion with the five-day turnaround, and certainly a lot of that has to do with Coastal Carolina and the uniqueness of what they do. . . . Their personnel, to go along with what they do from a conceptual standpoint, and you throw in there that we’ve got to travel in a five-day week, it’s certainly a big challenge for our team.”– Louisiana head coach Billy Napier
“They are one of the better offenses that we’ve played. They’re pretty physical up front and their backs run pretty hard. The quarterback is pretty savvy and they have some big targets at receiver as well. We’re going to have to line up and play physical. Their scheme isn’t very tricky or anything, it’s pretty smash-mouth. We’re just going to have to play tough and be tough and not hurt ourselves with mental mistakes.” – Johnson
“Louisiana is extremely talented, arguably the top one or two most talented teams in our league. It’s a big challenge for our team and our program but we’re excited about the opportunity to be on TV and showcase the strides that we’ve made in our program, but we do know we’re going to have to play really well to try to win Thursday night.” – Chadwell
The Chants snapped an overall three-game losing streak and seven-game losing streak in Sun Belt play with Saturday’s 36-35 win over Troy on a late two-point conversion, which surpassed the team’s previous long of six straight losses set in their first season in the conference in 2017. They now have a quick turnaround at home.
“Our guys’ attitudes have been good, but as you know if you keep losing and keep getting close then guys start losing hope sometimes,” Chadwell said. “It was good to see the hard work come to fruition. . . . It was much needed for us for our kids and our mindset and just the joy they were able to express in the locker room was good. We needed that.”
Sophomore Bryce Carpenter will get his third straight start with Fred Payton, who started the first six games, available but being held out unless he’s absolutely needed with an apparent shoulder injury, Chadwell said.
Louisiana’s defense has allowed more than 25 points to just one opponent this season – Mississippi State in a season-opening 38-28 loss. The Cajuns rank 19th in the nation with 18.4 points allowed per game and 38th with 350.8 total yards allowed per game.
“They play a lot of people on defense so they can rotate a lot of fresh guys in there, so they do have some depth, they’re talented from that standpoint,” Chadwell said. “. . . The more guys that play the more they get confident with who is in there, that allows them I think to play fast and hard and physical. They do have a talented defense and their defensive coordinator does a good job of mixing things up and putting their guys that are playmakers in position to make plays, and they confuse you with certain things. It’s a big challenge for us, especially on a short week.”
Louisiana’s downhill rushing offense is led by starting guards and tackles that average 6-foot-5 and 318 pounds, and redshirt senior linemen Robert Hunt and Kevin Dotson were named Midseason Second-Team All-Americans by Pro Football Focus.
Despite the short week Napier anticipates getting back at least a couple players who have been out recently with injury. “We had some players sit out of the game Saturday that with another five days will be prepared to play,” Napier said.
If the game is close Coastal should have a place kicking advantage. Coastal sophomore Massimo Biscardi is 12 of 15 on field goal attempts (80 percent) and is 4-for-4 from 40 or more yards. Louisiana is 4 of 9 on field goal attempts (44.4 percent) – senior Stevie Artigue is 4 of 8 and has made just one of five attempts longer than 29 yards – and both teams have missed two extra points.
▪ Thursday’s game marks the CCU program’s 100th home game at Brooks Stadium. The team is 70-29 there.
▪ The Chanticleers are 3-4 all-time in non-Saturday games, including 2-2 on Thursdays.
▪ Louisiana is 3-0 in true road games this season with double-digit margins of victory with wins at Ohio (45-25), Georgia Southern (37-24) and Arkansas State (37-20).
▪ Both teams have completed their bye weeks and are finishing the season with five games in successive weeks.
▪ Louisiana has the top-ranked scoring defense (18.4 ppg), red zone defense (73.9 percent) and fourth-down conversion defense (38.5 percent) in the Sun Belt.
Louisiana 38, Coastal Carolina 27: Hosting the game on a short week will be one of Coastal’s few advantages on paper in the matchup.