Sun Belt’s best clash as No. 21 ULL hosts Coastal Carolina

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — For the 21st-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, the unbeaten Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and the Sun Belt Conference, a hurricane delay provided a silver lining.

Instead of competing for attention with a slew of games last Saturday, ULL (3-0, 2-0 Sun Belt) and Coastal Carolina (3-1, 1-0) can showcase the bourgeoning Sun Belt’s brand of football to a more captive audience in a nationally televised game on Wednesday night.

Hurricane Delta didn’t entirely spare the Lafayette area, but damage was manageable enough that the Cajuns got to keep their home date and didn’t have to enact a contingency plan to move the game to the Chanticleers’ home field.

“We were very fortunate,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said, noting that campus and athletic facilities are in working condition, even if the community has plenty of cleaning up to do. “A lot of our issues are with fencing, trees down, power lines down, signage. … A lot of effort has been put into making arrangements to play this game.”

In this most unusual season amid a pandemic, the Cajuns have been ranked for the first time in school history. But their margin for error was small to begin with and will only get smaller as the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences resume play and increasingly draw poll votes to their top teams.

In essence, ULL must win to remain ranked and do so against a Coastal Carolina program that appears to be on the rise under coach Jamey Chadwell — and which itself could crack the Top 25 if it strings together a few more wins, given it is already starting to receive votes.

“Coastal Carolina is one of the more improved teams in our league,” Napier said. “Certainly, their young quarterback has done a great job of helping them play really efficient. The skill players that they have around him, the tight end, the running back the receivers, are a very explosive group and defensively I think they’ve taken a step forward and improved — not only personnel, but conceptually.

“It’s very evident that coach Chadwell – the program is improving under his watch,” Napier added.

It also sounds like the Chanticleers, who have never defeated a ranked team, made the best of some additional time off.

“It does give you a couple days to try to clean up some things, a couple extra days to try to get some guys maybe back that got banged up,” Chadwell said. “So, it was beneficial.”

THRIVING QBS

Both coaches credit no small part of their early season success to quarterback play.

That was expected at Louisiana-Lafayette, where Levi Lewis passed for single-season school records of 3,050 yards and 26 touchdowns during a breakout junior season in 2019. He has passed for 723 yards and four TDs through three games this season.

“Levi’s a product of a lot of hard work,” Napier said. “He’s really developed nicely as a quarterback. … He can do everything. He can throw. He can run. He processes well. He’s got a big arm. He’s accurate.”

The Chanticleers have a first-year starter in Grayson McCall who has passed for 728 yards and nine TDs, including 322 yards and four TDs in his previous game against Arkansas State.

“We thought we had, obviously, a good player there. But I think through the first three weeks, he’s exceeded our expectations,” Chadwell said. “He’s really made our offense really go because he’s been able to run our option game. In our pass (game), he’s been able to put the ball where it needs to be and made us, so far, hard to defend.”

BACKFIELD TANDEM

Lewis has the benefit of leaning at times on a Cajuns running game featuring two running backs who’ve each logged 1,000-yard seasons: Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas.

The pair has combined for 353 yards and five TDs so far.

LIKELY HERO

Chadwell gushes about tight end Isaiah Likely, who has 215 yards and three touchdowns receiving on just seven catches.

“He can play a traditional tight end and block and do some of the things in the run game, but then he’s skilled enough to put him out in the slot and put him in some different positions to go win some one-on-one matchups,” Chadwell said. “We thought he really came along last year, but we weren’t as good and so you didn’t get a lot of attention to him.”

DEFENSIVE COMPARISON

Coastal Carolina has the statistical edge over Louisiana-Lafayette in some key defensive categories.

The Chanticleers have sacked opposing QBs 13 times, an average of more than four per game. Cajun defenders have combined for three sacks.

The Chanticleers have intercepted four passes and the Ragin’ Cajuns three.

Coastal ranks second in the Sun Belt in stopping the run, allowing just less than 140 yards per game, while ULL ranks second to last in the league, allowing 191.

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