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Early Kentucky Football Opponent Preview: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns

We're doing early previews for all 12 of UK's 2015 opponent.s Up first, we preview what Kentucky can expect out of the UL-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.

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Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns

The Kentucky Wildcats will open the 2015 season with the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.  The game is slated for a 7:00 p.m. kickoff on September 5.  The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.

What To Know

  • Date: September 5
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • TV: ESPNU
  • Site: Commonwealth Stadium
  • Team Site: Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Football
  • Twitter Account: @RaginCajunsFB
  • Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth (5th season)
  • Offensive Starters Returning: 6
  • Defensive Starters Returning: 5

2014 Ragin' Cajuns season recap

The Ragin' Cajuns were the clear favorite to win the Sun Belt during the pre-season.  However, the Ragin' Cajuns began the season 1-3 with double digit losses to Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Boise State.  In week five they snuck past Georgia State 34-31 which catapulted them to win seven out of their last eight games.

The Ragin' Cajuns finished 7-1 in the Sun Belt, finishing second behind Georgia Southern.  Due to Georgia Southern transitioning from the FCS to the FBS, the Eagles were not bowl eligible. That placed Louisiana in familiar postseason territory at the New Orleans Bowl.  The Ragin' Cajuns defeated Nevada 16-3 to win their fourth straight New Orleans Bowl.

Head Coach

Mark Hudspeth was hired on December 13, 2010 to replace the terminated Ricky Bustle.  Prior to Hudspeth, the program had never won a bowl game.  Since Hudspeth's arrival the Ragin Cajun's have posted four consecutive 9-4 records that were capped by wins in the New Orleans Bowl.  Louisiana is one of five schools to win four straight bowl games from 2011 to 2014.  The 36 wins over the four year span is the best four-year record in Louisiana history.

Hudspeth spent two seasons at Mississippi State in 2009 and 2010 prior to taking the job at Louisiana.  He served as the passing game coordinator, and revitalized the Bulldogs offense with the hire of Dan Mullen.   Prior to Mississippi State he served as the head coach of North Alabama for seven seasons (2002-08), guiding the Lions to a 66-21 record.  He won the Gulf South Conference championship twice, and made five appearances in the NCAA Division II Championship tournament.

Key Offensive Players

Elijah McGuire will be the best running back that Kentucky plays all season not named Nick Chubb.  After his sophomore season McGuire was named the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.  McGuire led the Ragin' Cajuns in rushing with 1,264 yards and in receiving with 468 yards.  He led the Sun Belt Conference in all-purpose yards with 1,848 yards.

Jamal Robinson figures to be the top receiver on the roster in 2015.  The senior used a medical redshirt in 2014 after suffering multiple foot and knee injuries.  Robinson was off to a hot start after 15 catches for 260 yards and four touchdowns in the first three games.  The 6-4, 205-pound wide out seemed ready to take off after a 54-catch, 862-yard, eight score 2013, but he couldn’t stay healthy.  His returns takes the offense to another level, and helps whoever Hudspeth chooses as starting quarterback.

Offensive Approach

Mark Hudspeth's offensive philosophy centers around having a good athlete at quarterback that has the option to pass or run.  Terrance Broadway did very well in Hudspeth's offense for the past three seasons at quarterback.  Make no mistake though, the offense is a pass-first, no huddle offense that wants to put opponents in an unwary situation where the defense is off balance.  Hudspeth has also been known to incorporate trick plays into the play calling to keep the defense second guessing his play calling.

Despite having a pass-first philosophy, Hudspeth has reshaped his offense at Louisiana to fit the need of his personnel.  For the past three seasons Hudspeth has used a two running back system with McGuire and Alonzo Harris (graduated in 2014).  The Cajuns have rushed for well over 1,500 yards each season by utilizing a power-and-speed combination in the backfield.  The 2015 season will trend back to more pass-first, but with how good McGuire is the offensive play calling will be more balanced.

Key Defensive Players

Dominique Trovell is the only returning starter on the front seven.  The 6-2, 248-pound hybrid defender made nine tackles against Troy and was consistent throughout the season. Part linebacker, part defensive end, he spent last year on the weakside of the defense and turned in a productive season, making 67 tackles with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Tracy Walker will be the most important defensive back on this team.  He made 43 tackles in 2014 with 35 being in the open field.  Walker is very vital to run support, but can also make plays in the air.  He recorded two interceptions in 2014, which is a solid number for a strong safety.

Defensive Approach

In the off season Hudspeth hired two former Auburn coaches to run his defense.  Melvin Smith became the defensive coordinator and Charlie Harbison became the co-defensive coordinator for the Ragin' Cajuns.  Smith coached corner backs and Harbison coached safeties for the past two seasons at Auburn.

Smith will incorporate a base 4-3 defense, but will use different schemes to keep offenses honest.  While at Auburn the Tigers used a lot of nickel packages under defense coordinator Ellis Johnson.  Smith will use size and athleticism, much like Mark Stoops, to field his defensive unit.

Why Kentucky Should Feel Good

Under Hudspeth the Ragin' Cajuns are 0-8 vs. power conference teams.  In those 8 games the Ragin' Cajuns have been outscored by an average of 23 points per game.  Only two of those losses (2012 to Florida, 2011 to Arizona) were within three touchdowns.  For a historical perspective, Louisiana is 1-61 all-time versus current SEC teams, their lone win being in 1996 against Texas A&M.

On offense Louisiana must replace three-year starter Broadway at quarterback.  Broadway was a second team All-Sun Belt in 2014 after passing for 2,295 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Not only is replacing a proven quarterback  a challenge, but so is finding a consistent wide receiver.  Not one wide receiver on the current roster caught over 500 yards in 2014.  The top returning receiver happens to be the starting running back (McGuire).

On defense the Ragin' Cajuns allowed over 263 passing yards per game, which was 105th nationally.  Louisiana must also replace nose guard Christian Ringo, who recorded 11.5 sacks in 2014.  The Louisiana defense has given up over 45 points per game to Power 5 conference teams in Hudspeth's tenure.

Why Kentucky Should Be Worried

Kentucky fans obviously remember how dynamic and special Randall Cobb was for three years in Lexington.  He was a do-it-all player that was used all over the field by Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips.  McGuire is no different at Louisiana.  The Ragin' Cajuns will use him in a variety of ways, typically trying to get him into space so he can use his quickness and athleticism to make big plays.  It's not to say that one player can beat Kentucky, but McGuire is a future NFL player that will give the Wildcats fits in the front seven, especially with Jason Hatcher suspended for the game.

Louisiana will come into Commonwealth Stadium with absolutely no fear of Kentucky or the enviroment.  They have played several SEC teams in recent seasons, and Kentucky will be no different in terms of size or talent than they have played.  Kentucky must be ready to match Louisiana's energy for the opening kickoff.

Prediction

Kentucky 35, Louisiana 17