R & L NEW ORLEANS BOWL
NEVADA VS LOUISIANA – Saturday, Dec 20th, 10 am CT (ESPN)
This is one of the more interesting match ups for the Mountain West in the 2014 Bowl Season. Nevada finished the season at 7-5, but the record isn’t truly indicative of the ability of this squad. 4 of their 5 defeats were by a touchdown or less, including two against ranked opponents Arizona and Boise State. The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a somewhat rocky start before winning 7 of their last 8 games. A late season loss to Appalachian State kept Louisiana from tieing Georgia Southern for the Sun Belt Conference crown.
When you think of the Nevada Wolfpack, those of us that follow the Mountain West closely immediately think of their dynamic QB Cody Fajardo. Fajardo epitomizes the dual threat QB in wide open attacks. He rushed for just under 1000 yards and closed out 4 of his last 5 games with over 100+ to his credit. Fajardo’s near 60% completion percentage and 200 yards per game passing made the Wolfpack one of the more difficult teams to defend in the Mountain West. 2nd TEAM All-Conference TE Jarred Gipson hauled in 32 receptions and 4 TD’s, and the tandem of receivers; SR Richy Turner, & Sophomores Jerico Richardson combined for 111 catches, 1167 yards, and 7 TD’s. RB Don Jackson rushed for 932 & 7 scores, while FR James Butler added 620 and 5 TD’s.
As they say, “Pick your poison”.
Defensively the Wolfpack rallied around a strong LB corps led by SR Jonathan McNeal & his 95 total tackles. Another SR, DB Naigel Haikins heads up a secondary that helped the defense force 13 picks on the season and return 3 for scores. The Wolfpack tied for the Conference lead in fumble recoveries at 13, and 26 combined takeaways was 2nd in the Mountain West. Brian Polian’s defense is an opportunistic “feast or famine” group, creating a lot of pressure with an athletic presence on the field, but that over aggressiveness led to some “big play” holes.
Ragin’ Cajun Offense
Louisiana will test those “holes” with a rushing attack ranked 25th in the nation at 229 yards per game. Sophomore Elijah McGuire averaged 7.77 per carry & scored 14 TD’s behind 1165 yards. SR Alanzo Harris added 12 TD’s and 737, while QB Terrance Broadway was equally effective on the ground with 646 of his own.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are about a 2 to 1, run to pass team, but Broadway is solid with a 61% completion percentage. SR WR James Butler leads all receivers with 417 yards, but McGuire has 40 receptions out of the backfield and 2 scores. However look for Mark Hudspeth’s team to try & establish the running game. Their 4 losses on the season are coincidently their four lowest rushing outputs as well.
Ragin’ Cajun Defense
SR DL Christian Ringo leads a Louisiana defense ranked 6th in the Sun Belt. Ringo’s 19.5 Tackles for losses and 10.5 sacks led the Cajuns in both categories. SR DB Corey Trim, the team’s leading tackler, also logged 2 picks on the season to go with 4 pass breakups. Like their offense, success on defense is predicated on the run, stopping it. In their 4 losses Louisiana gave up over 200+ yards rushing and did so only one other time all season.
The Key To The Game
I feel the TEAM that can most effectively mix in their passing attack will ultimately prevail. Both defenses are last in their respective conferences in surrendering big pass plays. The Wolfpack’s Jerico Richardson will be a pivotal playmaker in this regard.