LAFAYETTE — The Ragin’ Cajuns will finally get to play a game again.
A COVID-19 outbreak inside the locker room of an opponent, and Hurricane Delta, forced the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team to reshuffle its schedule the past few weeks not once but twice.
So when No. 21 UL Lafayette (3-0, 2-0 SBC) hosts Coastal Carolina (3-0, 1-0 SBC) tonight at 6:30 p.m., it will be 18 days since the Ragin’ Cajuns took the field for a football game.
To say the least, the team is ready to play.
“I am very happy,” Cajuns wide receiver Jalen Williams said earlier this week. “I have been waiting on it. I am happy we have gotten to keep the COVID under control in our building so we can keep our season going. I am just excited for how everything is going to play out.”
“We are excited to play,” Cajuns head coach Billy Napier said. “We are thankful to play. You know there are a lot of teams that won’t get to play as many times as we are this year.”
The long layoff is something the Cajuns tried to avoid.
After Appalachian State was forced to postpone its game on Oct. 7 with UL Lafayette due to a COVID outbreak, the Ragin’ Cajuns readjusted their schedule by bumping up a game with Coastal Carolina up a week from Oct. 7 to Oct. 10. Then Hurricane Delta entered the Gulf of Mexico and the team was forced to move the game to tonight.
That time off may have been a positive for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise,” Napier said. “I don’t want to make light of the hurricane or what App State was going through from a COVID-19 standpoint. But we were a little banged up and had a handful of players due to COVID contact tracing. This will be the healthiest we have been since the opener.”
Pass rusher Joe Dillon and running back Elijah Mitchell are among the players that have missed time due to COVID contact — both are set to return tonight. Running back Chris Smith, who suffered an ankle injury against Georgia Southern, is recovering and will likely be a game-time decision to play.
UL Lafayette routed Coastal Carolina last season in Conway, South Carolina, by the final score of 48-7. The Chanticleers looked to be much improved on offense, averaging 44.33 points and 441 yards per game. The big difference has been the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall (728 yards, 66.7 completion percentage, 9 TD, 1 INT).
“They have made some changes in the offseason,” Napier said. “They have tweaked their scheme a little bit. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they are doing what their quarterback can do. He is really playing well. He has played at a really efficient level. He has been accurate all over the field.”
“I guess they are disciplined in what they do,” Cajuns defensive end Andre Jones said. “They got the same people out there. It is the same players as last year, just a different quarterback. We are not going to take them lightly though. We’re going to come out there and get after them.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns offense (409.7 yards per game) will be going up against a Chanticleers defense that is giving up 22.33 points and 364.7 yards per game.
“I think they have improved,” Napier said. “I think they play with better fundamentals. I think their effort is better and they have added pieces to the puzzle at every level of the defense. I think they are benefiting from their offense having success.”
If UL Lafayette wants to start the season 4-0 for the first time since 1988, Napier says that the Ragin’ Cajuns must not buy into all the hype of being a ranked team — and at the same time respect the work that went into achieving that ranking.
“When we see those numbers by our name we need to think about all the work we have done to create that,” Napier said. “And we need to continue to do that work so we can finish.”