Louisiana and Marshall will get an early start on their Sun Belt Conference rivalry when they meet in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Saturday in the Caesars Superdome.
The No. 23 Ragin’ Cajuns (12-1) secured the host berth in the New Orleans Bowl by defeating Appalachian State 24-16 in the Sun Belt championship game Dec. 4.
The Thundering Herd (7-5), who finished second in the Conference USA East division, will join the Sun Belt no later than July 1, 2023.
Louisiana has won a school-record 12 consecutive games since losing the season opener at Texas.
The Cajuns’ fourth consecutive Sun Belt West division title helped head coach Billy Napier land the head-coaching job at Florida. Napier coached the team in the conference championship game before departing.
Co-offensive coordinator Michael Desormeaux was named as Napier’s successor and will make his head-coaching debut against Marshall. After the bowl game, Desormeaux will have to fill three spots on his staff that were created by Napier hires at Florida.
“I don’t want there to be a whole bunch of distractions among the players any more than what we’ve already had,” Desormeaux said. “These guys for the last two or three weeks, they’ve been through the ringer. The No. 1 priority for myself and my staff is to send this team off the right way in this New Orleans Bowl.
“We started this thing a long time ago — for some of these kids for four years in the making — and we’ve got one more mission this year that we plan on finishing. We have a great team. They deserve to finish this thing the right way.”
Cajuns super senior quarterback Levi Lewis is 34-7 as the Cajuns starter and will be playing his final game.
Louisiana is 11th in the country in scoring defense (18.2) and created 21 turnovers while committing just eight.
Marshall lost two of its last three games, which included a 53-21 thrashing at the hands of Western Kentucky.
“We’ve got a point to prove,” first-team All-CUSA running back Rasheen Ali said. “We all want to finish strong because we didn’t get the outcome we wanted at the end of the season, so we can go down to New Orleans, and come out with a victory.”
Ali, a freshman who averages 103.4 rushing yards per game, is tied for first nationally with 20 rushing touchdowns and is second with 22 total touchdowns and 11.0 points per game.
Marshall is tied for fourth nationally with 35 rushing touchdowns and is 10th in total offense (470.8) and 12th in passing offense (310.9). The defense is led by All-CUSA linebacker Abraham Beauplan (104 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble) and is tied for 13th nationally with 38 sacks.
The game is a Louisiana homecoming for three members of the Thundering Herd. Safety Cory McCoy, voted defensive MVP by his teammates and coaches, is a graduate transfer from McNeese State. His head coach with the Cowboys was Lance Guidry, who is a native of Welsh, La., and the current Marshall defensive coordinator. Tight end Hayden Hagler is from Sulphur, La.
Louisiana went to the New Orleans Bowl each season from 2011-14 and won each game before losing to Southern Miss in the same bowl in 2016.
This will be Marshall’s first appearance in the New Orleans Bowl.
–Field Level Media
Michael Desormeaux was named head coach at Louisiana, his alma mater, on Sunday.
He replaces Billy Napier, who was hired as the head coach at Florida.
Desormeaux, 36, played quarterback for the Ragin’ Cajuns (2005-08). He spent the past six seasons on Louisiana’s coach staff, most recently as co-offensive coordinator in 2021.
This season, the Ragin’ Cajuns won their first-ever Sun Belt Conference championship. At 12-1, they are ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“Throughout our search process, we were intentional in identifying someone who could carry on the winning #cULture that we have built at the University of Louisiana,” athletic director Bryan Maggard said in a news release.
“We looked both internally and externally and it became very evident that not only is Mike Desormeaux ready to be a head coach, but he is the right head coach for our program now. Mike has amazing relationships with every member of our nationally ranked team and is highly respected by the high school football coaches in the state of Louisiana. He is a man of unbelievable character and integrity, is highly respected in the college coaching profession, and has a very high football acumen.”
As a player, Desormeaux passed for 3,893 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing for 2,843 yards and 16 TDs. He was named All-Sun Belt Conference three times and was the Offensive Player of the Year as a senior after throwing for 1,876 yards while rushing for 1,035 yards.
“I am absolutely thrilled and honored to serve as the next head coach at the University of Louisiana,” Desormeaux said. “I am a Ragin’ Cajun through and through, so to get this unbelievable opportunity is humbling to say the least.”
–Field Level Media
Levi Lewis threw for one touchdown and ran for another and No. 24 Louisiana’s defense held down Appalachian State in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 24-16 victory in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game Saturday in Lafayette, La.
The Cajuns (12-1) allowed just 289 yards in head coach Billy Napier’s final game before taking over as Florida’s head coach.
Louisiana clinched a berth in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl by winning for the first time in three title game appearances against the Mountaineers (10-3) in the last four seasons.
Emani Bailey Rushed for 117 yards and a rushing touchdown for Louisiana, which beat visiting Appalachian State during the regular season, 41-13 on Oct. 12. The Cajuns set a school single-season record for wins, all of which have come since a 38-18 loss at Texas in the season opener.
The Cajuns drove to Lewis’ 27-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jefferson on the game’s first possession, producing the only first-quarter points.
The Mountaineers punted on their first four possessions and Louisiana punted on its first two possessions after the opening drive. But midway through the second quarter Lewis broke free for a 56-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 Cajuns’ lead.
Appalachian State finally broke through the fifth time it had the ball as Camerun Peoples ran 43 yards for a touchdown that cut the lead to 14-7 with 2:38 left in the quarter.
After an exchange of punts Louisiana took over at its 46 with 32 seconds left and Lewis drove the Cajuns to Nate Snyder’s 33-yard field goal with one second left, increasing the margin to 17-7 at halftime.
Following the second-half kickoff, the Mountaineers drove 57 yards to Chandler Staton’s 36-yard field goal that pulled them to within 17-10.
The score remained that way until early in the fourth quarter, when Bailey ran 35 yards for a touchdown on third-and-nine play to increase Louisiana’s lead to 24-10 with 12:14 remaining.
With 5:06 remaining, Appalachian State got a 24-yard touchdown pass from Chase Brice to Daetrick Hennigan. The Mountaineers’ ensuing two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 24-16.
Appalachian State got the ball back in the final minute, but Chauncey Manac sacked Brice, forcing a fumble near midfield and recovering it with 23 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
–Field Level Media
Billy Napier has one more thing to accomplish at Louisiana.
The 24th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns (11-1, 8-0) have won the Sun Belt Conference West Division title in each of Napier’s four seasons as head coach and lost in the championship game twice.
After seeing last year’s championship game against Coastal Carolina canceled because of COVID-19, Louisiana hosts the Sun Belt title game for the first time when it faces Appalachian State (10-2, 7-1) on Saturday in Lafayette, La.
Napier, who was named head coach at Florida on Sunday, will coach the Cajuns on Saturday in search of their first title game victory. It’s undetermined whether he will coach them in their bowl game. The winner of Saturday’s game goes to the New Orleans Bowl.
“We set out to build a program that would make this University and Louisiana proud,” Napier said.
Louisiana lost its season opener at Texas, 38-18, but has won a school-record 11 games in a row, tying the win total under Napier two years ago.
The distraction of Florida’s courting of Napier was nothing new to the Cajuns. Napier has been a frequent target the last couple of years. Last year he reportedly spurned overtures from two other SEC schools – South Carolina and Auburn.
“It hasn’t been difficult,” safety Kam Pedescleaux said. “I feel like as a team we don’t really focus on those outside things.”
One of reasons for Napier’s lack of interest in other jobs a year ago was that Louisiana was returning 20 starters and expected to have a chance to succeed as it has.
“We know that this group is special,” Pedescleaux said. “All we want to do is bring a championship to Lafayette.”
The Cajuns, who went undefeated in Sun Belt play for the first time, defeated the Mountaineers 41-13 on Oct. 12 in Lafayette.
“After the Louisiana game we came back and we regrouped,” Appalachian State head coach Shawn Clark said. “We didn’t coach well in that game and we didn’t play well in that game.”
The Mountaineers have won six straight since then. The streak started with a 30-27 victory at Coastal Carolina and each of the subsequent victories has come by at least 24 points.
“We’ve been performing at a high level these last couple weeks, and I think that just goes to our preparation,” linebacker D’Marco Jackson said.
The Mountaineers are coming off a dominant defensive effort in a season-ending 27-3 home victory against Georgia Southern last Saturday. They had four sacks and allowed just 194 yards. They’ve allowed a total of just 31 points in their last four games.
“We went back to keeping things a little simpler,” Clark said. “We have really been rallying to the football, getting 11 hats to the football and playing fast. That has shown the last four or five games.”
Like Louisiana, Appalachian State is a very experienced team. The Mountaineers have a group of seven sixth-year seniors who have been part of compiling a 62-15 record.
“This is the third time (the Sun Belt Championship Game) has been played, and it’s been us and Louisiana the whole time,” Clark said. “I think it’s big any time you can have a chance to play for championships and that’s what we sell in our programs.”
–Field Level Media
Montrell Johnson ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a go-ahead score on a 13-yard carry with 2:32 remaining, as No. 24 Louisiana avoided an upset by defeating Georgia State 21-17 on Thursday night at Lafayette, La.
Louisiana (8-1, 6-0 Sun Belt) won its eighth game in a row to clinch a spot in next month’s conference championship game representing the West Division. This was the team’s fourth win by four or fewer points.
Georgia State (4-5, 3-2) led for most of the game, but its chances of winning the Sun Belt’s East Division were severely damaged by the result. The Panthers reached the Louisiana 49-yard line on their final possession before an incomplete pass on fourth down.
The teams combined for five touchdowns during a six-possession stretch in the second half.
Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis threw for 287 yards on 19-of-34 passing with a touchdown and an interception. Johnson produced 98 yards on 17 carries.
Tucker Gregg ran for 99 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for Georgia State.
Georgia State led 10-0 midway through the third quarter after converting following a Louisiana turnover.
Antavious Lane intercepted Lewis, and it took the Panthers just three plays to cover 52 yards, scoring on Darren Grainger’s 37-yard pass to Roger Carter.
The Ragin’ Cajuns finally got untracked, going 75 yards on 12 plays with Lewis connecting with Peter LeBlanc for a 14-yard touchdown play.
The hosts scored again on their next possession, this time needing just six plays to march 51 yards. Johnson ran in from 3 yards out to give Louisiana its first lead with 13:11 left in the game.
However, a 16-play, 76-yard drive gave Georgia State the lead again on Gregg’s 1-yard run at the 5:25 mark.
Earlier, the points were tougher to collect for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Louisiana drove inside the Georgia State 10-yard line on the first drive of the game and on its last possession of the first half. Both times the Ragin’ Cajuns gave the ball back after a failed fourth-down play.
The only points of the first half came at the end of Georgia State’s first drive, a 12-play march that concluded with Noel Ruiz’s 39-yard field goal.
Though the Ragin’ Cajuns are ranked 24th in the AP poll, they did not crack the Top 25 in the first College Football Playoff ratings that were released Tuesday.
–Field Level Media
Hudson Card passed for 224 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score in his first collegiate start as No. 21 Texas began the Steve Sarkisian era with a 38-18 win over No. 23 Louisiana on Saturday afternoon in the season-opener for both teams in Austin, Texas.
Card was 14-of-21 passing and connected with six different receivers while playing three quarters for the Longhorns (1-0). Bijan Robinson ran for 103 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 73 yards and another score in Texas’ romp while Jordan Whittington led all receivers with seven catches for a career-best 113 yards.
The Longhorns’ defense limited Louisiana to 359 yards, 179 of which came in the final 12:24 of the game after things were out of reach. Dual-threat Ragin’ Cajuns’ quarterback Levi Lewis passed for 282 yards and a scoring pass late, combining with Kyren Lacy on a 19-yard touchdown.
Louisiana (0-1) got on the board first via a 37-yard field goal by Kenneth Almendares at the end of a 42-yard drive with 8:16 to play in the first quarter. Texas answered with an 18-yard TD pass from Card to Robinson at the 2:25 mark of the first that culminated an 11-play, 70-yard march.
The Longhorns added to their lead when Card hit Cade Brewer on a 6-yard touchdown pass with two minutes to play before halftime. Almendares booted a career-long 48-yard field goal on the final play of the half to allow the Ragin’ Cajuns to pull to within 14-6 at the break.
Robinson stutter-stepped his way to a 7-yard TD run on the opening drive of the third quarter to push Texas’ lead to 21-6. Louisiana responded on the ensuing possession with a 27-yard touchdown run around right end by Chris Smith before Almendares’ extra point was blocked by the Longhorns’ Keondre Coburn.
Card’s 3-yard scoring run expanded Texas’ advantage to 28-12 with 2:43 to play in the third quarter. Whittington’s 14-yard catch-and-run TD from backup quarterback Casey Thompson early in the fourth quarter removed any real notion of a comeback from Louisiana.
Texas’ Cameron Dicker booted a 49-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter to provide the final margin of victory.
–Field Level Media
Louisiana didn’t get a chance to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship.
The No. 19 Ragin’ Cajuns are trying to prevent that disappointment from adversely affecting their performance against UTSA in the First Responder Bowl on Saturday on the SMU campus in Dallas.
Louisiana (9-1) flew to South Carolina last Thursday to play Coastal Carolina for the Sun Belt title, but returned home the next day after the game was canceled due to COVID issues within the Chanticleers’ program.
Both teams were declared co-champions.
“We’ve got to take that anger and frustration and disappointment and move forward and use those things as fuel on the fire to get ready to play,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “We’ve got a very competitive culture here. We’ve got a very competitive group of people.”
The Cajuns opened the season with a 31-14 road victory against No. 10 Iowa State and have the best 10-game record in school history.
They have won the Sun Belt West division and played in a bowl game in each of Napier’s three seasons as head coach. That success led to Napier being a candidate for coaching vacancies at South Carolina and Auburn, but Louisiana announced this week that Napier is staying put.
Louisiana’s defense has forced at least two turnovers in each victory this season. The only time it failed to do that was in a 30-27 home loss to Coastal Carolina on Oct. 14.
The Roadrunners are 7-4 in coach Jeff Traylor’s first season. A victory over the Cajuns would be the first bowl victory for a school that is making just its second appearance in a bowl and it would tie the school-record for wins in a season.
UTSA was originally scheduled to play SMU in the Frisco Bowl, but the Dec. 19 game was canceled due to COVID issues in the Mustangs’ program.
The First Responder Bowl stepped in and invited the Roadrunners, who gladly accepted but had to wait five days to learn that Louisiana would be their opponent.
“What an awesome opportunity,” Traylor said. “I’m just so thrilled for our players, coaches and staff to be playing in a bowl game.”
The UTSA program is in just its 10th season. The school tied an NCAA modern startup program record by reaching a bowl game in just its sixth season, losing to New Mexico 23-20 in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl.
The Roadrunners finished second in the Conference USA West division with a 5-2 conference record.
“We’re building something special here,” quarterback Frank Harris said. “Coach Traylor is doing a great job of instilling a culture. We are following it now and seeing the results.”
UTSA set school records for total offense (624 yards) and rushing yards (443) in their last game – a 49-17 victory against North Texas on Nov. 28. It was the second consecutive game that the total offense record was broken.
“I think we finished the (regular) season out in the right way,” said running back Sincere McCormick, who had a record 251 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
–Field Level Media