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Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis (1) hands the ball to runningback Emani Bailey (9). (Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire)
December 16th, 2021
The Sun Belt champions, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, will face future conference foe, the Marshall Thundering Herd, on Saturday in the 2021 New Orleans Bowl.
It’s been a phenomenal season for the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2021. Following a 38-18 defeat at Texas to open the season, Louisiana rolled off wins in its remaining 11 regular-season contests before taking home the Sun Belt championship with a 24-16 victory over Appalachian State.
It was the Ragin’ Cajuns' second win over the Mountaineers on the season, and they led 14-0 in the first half and were never truly threatened.
What a way to win a conference championship! Chauncey Manac’s forced fumble makes sure the #SunBeltChampionship is headed to Louisiana… #GeauxCajuns | #CollegeFootball pic.twitter.com/7PJGT5xTb7— College Football Network (@CFN365) December 5, 2021
What a way to win a conference championship! Chauncey Manac’s forced fumble makes sure the #SunBeltChampionship is headed to Louisiana… #GeauxCajuns | #CollegeFootball pic.twitter.com/7PJGT5xTb7
This season's success led to head coach Billy Napier becoming a hot hiring candidate, and he recently accepted the head coaching job with Florida.
Michael Desormeaux has been promoted from offensive coordinator to become the new head coach, and he is a former player for the school. He has been handed the keys to a team with a stellar defense that ranks 11th in the nation in scoring, and 25th in passing yards allowed.
The unit has allowed 20 points or fewer in nine of its last 11 games, and linebacker Chauncey Manac has recorded 10.5 sacks on the season.
Offensively, Louisiana relies on its two-headed monster at running back. Chris Smith leads the team with 855 yards rushing, but Montrell Johnson leads in rushing scores (11) to go with his 784 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Levi Lewis gets rid of the ball quickly and has 19 touchdowns to just four interceptions, along with 2,647 yards passing.
The offense is not only solid, it’s very careful with the football. Only one team has a better turnover margin than the Ragin’ Cajuns, and their eight turnovers are the fewest in the nation. They have not turned it over in their last four games, and have just one giveaway in their past six contests.
The Thundering Herd suffered five defeats this season, but all five came at the hands of teams that are headed to bowl games. They also seemed to figure things out mid-season, winning five of their final seven games, with four of those wins coming by double-digit margins.
Marshall’s defensive improvement was a key reason for that and held opponents under 30 points, despite struggling against the run all season.
Marshall’s 104th-ranked run defense allowed teams to rush for nearly 186 yards per game, and Western Kentucky — ranked 125th in the nation in rushing yardage — even managed to gash them for 157 yards in a 53-21 win over Marshall in the final week of the regular season.
When the Herd can get into obvious passing situations, they have an outstanding pass rush.
They make up for their defensive inefficiencies with a strong passing attack, led by quarterback Grant Wells. He threw for 3,433 yards and 16 touchdowns this year while completing nearly 67% of his throws, but he tends to force things, which has led to 12 interceptions.
His primary target, Corey Gammage, led the team with 69 catches and 828 yards, and was one of four players with at least 400 yards receiving.
That said, the Herd must score points, as they have lost four of their five games this season in which they did not score at least 28 points.
Leaders in Passing Yards--Group of 5: Bailey Zappe, WKU, 5,545 (No. 1 overall in FBS)Carson Strong, Nevada, 4,186Jake Haener, Fresno State, 3,810Tanner Mordecai, SMU, 3,628Logan Bonner, Utah State, 3,560Grant Wells, Marshall, 3,433Seth Henigan, Memphis, 3,322— Brock Laue (@BrockLaue) December 12, 2021
Leaders in Passing Yards--Group of 5: Bailey Zappe, WKU, 5,545 (No. 1 overall in FBS)Carson Strong, Nevada, 4,186Jake Haener, Fresno State, 3,810Tanner Mordecai, SMU, 3,628Logan Bonner, Utah State, 3,560Grant Wells, Marshall, 3,433Seth Henigan, Memphis, 3,322
Marshall has the best bowl record in the nation among teams with at least 10 appearances, having gone 12-4. However, the Herd have lost their last two bowl games. This is the last time they will represent Conference USA in a bowl, as next season they will join Louisiana as members of the Sun Belt conference.
Marshall has a very solid passing game and Louisiana tends to give up yards this season when facing pass-heavy offenses. However, the gap in talent and class is too large to ignore.
Of Marshall’s seven wins this season, only six came against FBS opponents. Not a single win came against a team with a winning record, and those six teams combined for a 27-45 record.
Additionally, the one common foe Marshall and Louisiana have with each other — Appalachian State — defeated Marshall 31-30.
Marshall’s inability to stop the run, and its tendency to turn over the football, will be its downfall in this contest.
Louisiana will keep the Thundering Herd passing attack grounded for long periods while it rotates fresh legs in and out, and should win this game handily, even without Napier.
Take Louisiana to cover the spread, and for a Same Game Combo, pair it with the Ragin' Cajuns winning the first half outright.
Score prediction: Louisiana 35, Marshall 24
New Orleans Bowl Pick: Louisiana -5 (-112)
Same Game Combo: Louisiana -5 / Louisiana first-half moneyline(+123)
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