LAFAYETTE — The Ragin’ Cajuns finally got over the hump last season against Appalachian State.
After losing the first eight meetings on the gridiron, Louisiana defeated its Sun Belt Conference nemesis 24-20 in rainy conditions on the road last December. Yet, just because the Cajuns finally bested the Mountaineers on the field that doesn’t mean that they feel that the proverbial monkey off their back.
“I think that was last year,” Louisiana fourth-year coach Billy Napier said. “This will be the sixth time in four years. It is always a competitive game. They have beaten us a lot more than we have beaten them. I don’t know if that monkey is quite off our backs. It might be hanging on to one of our legs.”
“What are we against them?” Ragin’ Cajuns left tackle Ken Marks asked. “1-8 or 1-9 all the years we’ve played them? So we’ve got a lot of catching up to do before we can say anything about overtaking them and trying to get where they are as a program.”
The two programs will meet once again on Tuesday night when Louisiana (4-1, 2-0 SBC) hosts Appalachian State (4-1, 1-0 SBC). Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.
The respect between the two programs, which have won five division championships over the past three seasons, is immense.
“Coach Napier has his team playing at a high level,” Appalachian State coach Shawn Clark said. “You look at their team in all three phases and there are no weak spots in any of those phases. It’s going to be a great game.”
“We’ve got complete respect for App State,” Napier said. “Heck, I feel like we have played them a dozen times the first couple of years we’ve been here. The tradition, the history and certainly when you turn on the tape you can’t help but respect the brand of football they play.”
App State’s brand is a balanced attack on offense.
The Mountaineers are averaging 35.2 points and 481.4 yards per game and are led by quarterback Chase Brice, a transfer from Duke and Clemson. Brice is completing 67.97 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns to only three interceptions.
“They have a good group of receivers,” Napier said. “The (Corey) Sutton kid is back. Old No. 5 (Thomas Hennigan) I feel like he has been playing forever. The tight ends are all capable.
“I think it is all about the quarterback. He has been outstanding.”
A key in last year’s 24-21 victory was pressuring the quarterback. The team recorded three sacks and six tackles for a loss.
That may be a challenge in this matchup as Appalachian State has given up only five sacks this season.
“There’s a big laundry list of things you can do to affect the quarterback,” Napier said. “Whether that’s winning individual matchups on the edge, whether that’s pushing the pocket, whether that’s tipping the ball or whether that’s playing really good coverage and making the guy hold the ball … pressuring and making sure those pressures are well-designed.”
The series started out with lopsided defeats for the Ragin’ Cajuns as the Mountaineers won by an average margin of 28 points. In the five meetings since then, the average margin of victory has been a mere eight points.
That’s why both coaches expect Tuesday’s matchup to be extremely competitive.
“It’s going to be a tough battle,” Clark said. “It is a tough environment down there.”
“We are going to have hit on all of our cylinders to even be competitive with this team,” Napier said.