Louisiana Lafayette Football Preview

Trying to reverse course after three consecutive losing seasons, Louisiana Lafayette has turned to a Nick Saban protege.

Former Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier was hired to replace Mark Hudspeth, who guided the Ragin' Cajuns to five New Orleans Bowl bids over a seven-year stretch. A former wide receivers coach under Saban, Napier was part of two national championship staffs at Alabama (2011, 2015).

Though Napier brings an offensive background to Acadiana, his most pressing chore is fixing a defense which surrendered 40 points and 492.7 yards per game.

First-year defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, the former Southeastern Louisiana head coach, will rely on newcomers as the unit returns only four returning starters from last year's 5-7 (4-4 Sun Belt) outfit.

Two senior graduate transfers, Gerrald McDowell (Ole Miss) and cornerback Kendall Johnson (Nevada) are being counted on for immediate help. McDowell, a Covington product, was a three-year letterman at Ole Miss as a backup defensive end and special teams player. Johnson, who prepped at St. Thomas More, returns to his hometown after starting 26 games at Nevada.

Sophomore end Zi'Yon Hill, who played sparingly last season, and senior nose tackle LaDarrius Kidd (21 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss) join McDowell on the front three.

Junior Jacques Boudreaux (58 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 interception) is the only linebacker with significant experience. Also in the equation are senior Justin Middleton, who recorded 11 tackles in his lone start vs. Georgia Southern, sophomore Lorenzo McCaskill and junior Ferrod Gardner.

Junior Michael Jacquet III, who caught 41 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns as a wide receiver last season, has moved to cornerback.

Senior Koa Haynes (28 tackles, 1 INT) is the nickel back with junior Terik Miller and senior Corey Turner (67 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 INT), the team's top returning tackler, at the safeties.

Former Neville and LSU Tiger Rob Sale, who made the move with Napier from Arizona State, is the new offensive coordinator.

Despite a rash of injuries at quarterback, the Ragin' Cajuns averaged a respectable 28.2 points and 395.5 total yards (214.8 passing, 183.7 rushing) per game in 2017.

Napier waited until Wednesday to reveal fifth-year senior Andre Nunez as the starters for Saturday's season opener against Grambling at Cajun Field. Nunez appeared in four games last season, starting two, before suffering a concussion. He completed completed 61-of-99 passes for 783 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Nunez was chosen as the starter over Levi Lewis, a sophomore out of Scotlandville. When announcing Nunez as the starter, Napier said that Lewis will play Saturday, though he declined to say how the snaps would be divided. Appearing in four games (three starts) as a true freshman, Lewis was 28-of-54 for 377 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT, while rushing for 175 yards and three scores.

Center Cole Prudhomme, right guard Kevin Dotson and right tackle Robert Hunt, a trio of juniors, return up front. Prudhomme and Dotson both started all 12 games as sophomores. Dotson shifts over to right tackle after drawing 11 starts (9 at left guard, 2 at left tackle).

Whoever ends up taking the snaps will be surrounded by an established group at the skill positions.

Trey Ragas (142 carries, 813 yards, 9 TDs), who led the team in rushing as a redshirt freshman, is backed up by junior Raymond Calais (15-88-1) and sophomore Elijah Mitchell (42-257-4 in 5 games).

Senior Ryheem Malone (44 receptions, 676 yards, 4 TDs) is joined in a deep receiving corps by senior Keenan Barnes (37-539-2) and juniors Ja'Marcus Bradley (39-475-2) and Jarrod Jackson (18-219-2).

Senior Matt Barnes and sophomore Johnny Lumpkin are the tight ends.

Senior Stevie Artigue, who made 10-of-14 field goals with a long of 51, will reportedly sit out the season with an injury. With Artigue, who is not listed on the current roster, apparently out, senior Calvin Linden will likely assume the kicking duties.

Sophomore Seth Kootsouradis is the new punter.

Calias returned 30 kickoffs for a 23.8-yard average, including a pair of touchdowns vs. SLU, while Malone ran back a dozen punts at a 12.2-yard clip.

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LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Sept. 1 Grambling 6:00

Sept. 15 at Mississippi State 6:30

Sept. 22 Coastal Carolina* TBA

Sept. 29 at Alabama TBA

Oct. 6 at Texas State* TBA

Oct. 13 New Mexico State TBA

Oct. 20 at Appalachian State* TBA

Oct. 27 Arkansas State* TBA

Nov. 3 at Troy * TBA

Nov. 10 Georgia State * TBA

Nov. 17 South Alabama* TBA

Nov. 24 at ULM* TBA