Louisiana Football: Prediction, keys to victory in First Responder Bowl

Cajuns head coach Billy Napier on sideline as Louisiana Ragin Cajuns take on the Miami University Redhawks in the Lending Tree Bowl in Mobile, AL. Monday, Jan. 6, 2020.Cajuns Miami Lending Tree Bowlv4 3582
Cajuns head coach Billy Napier on sideline as Louisiana Ragin Cajuns take on the Miami University Redhawks in the Lending Tree Bowl in Mobile, AL. Monday, Jan. 6, 2020.Cajuns Miami Lending Tree Bowlv4 3582 /

Louisiana football under Billy Napier looks to make statement against the UTSA Roadrunners in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl

To be honest, the bowl season has not delivered the most competitive games so far, but Saturday’s SERVPRO First Responder Bowl might be a sneaky good game between Louisiana football and one of the better rushing attacks in the country.

Seemingly always invited to the familiar confines of the Superdome for the New Orleans Bowl around this time of the year, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns instead head to Dallas featuring a 9-1 record and having one of their best seasons ever.

Head coach Billy Napier, in his third season, looks to follow up on an 11-3 record last season by getting to 10 wins, which would be the Ragin’ Cajuns’ best season by winning percentage since they became an NCAA Division I member in 1974.

Napier has become one of the hottest young talents in coaching, so it is perhaps no surprise his name was apparently tied to the recent opening at Auburn only to supposedly turn them down earlier this week.

Many might remember that Louisiana set the tone for the season early with a 31-14 upset over Iowa State featuring two long kick returns for touchdowns that broke the game open. The Ragin’ Cajuns also limited Brock Purdy to 145 yards and zero touchdowns, which set them on the path to having the nation’s No. 5 pass defense this year.

Louisiana followed this up with close wins against teams such as UAB and Appalachian State with their only loss a 30-27 defeat to unbeaten Sun Belt foe Coastal Carolina. Unfortunately, their hopes for a rematch were dashed when the Sun Belt Championship was canceled due to COVID concerns.

Meanwhile, UTSA has been one of the quieter success stories in college football this season. The Roadrunners have only won seven games in the prior two years, but first-year coach Jeff Traylor has already matched that mark by leading them to a 7-4 record and their first bowl game since 2016.

A large reason for this has been running back Sincere McCormick who is No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 1,345 yards and 11 touchdowns. The offensive player of the year in Conference USA, McCormick already has set the program record for most rushing yards.

Despite having more losses than Louisiana, three of UTSA’s defeats in a row were close games versus UAB, BYU, and Army. Notably, leading passer Frank Harris did not play much during that stretch.

The Roadrunners were originally scheduled to play last Saturday in the Frisco Bowl before their opponent SMU had to back out due to COVID, so now UTSA finds themselves against a marquee mid-major while looking for their first bowl win in program history.

Unfortunately, Jeff Traylor will not be at the game after testing positive for you-know-what, so Barry Lunney Jr. will take over duties. Some might remember that he coached Arkansas for a few games after Chad Morris was fired towards the end of last year, so UTSA should be in good hands.

Date: Saturday, December 26
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Dallas, Tex.
Venue: Gerald J. Ford Stadium
Live Stream: WatchESPN  

Keys to Victory

Louisiana brings the No. 2 scoring offense in the Sun Belt with almost 34 points per game behind a balanced attack that averages over 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per contest. Quarterback Levi Lewis is a fine passer when his first option is available and is a willing scrambler if it is not. However, the foundation of the offense relies on the duo of Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas who can be used interchangeably.

While their pass defense has been great including recording 15 interceptions on the season, the Ragin’ Cajuns have struggled against the run at times. In their loss against Coastal Carolina, the Chanticleers were able to control the game by running the ball 48 times.

For UTSA, ensuring the ground game with McCormick also means using the run to set up the pass. Frank Harris has 10 passing touchdowns and five interceptions in the games he has played this year. He is also very mobile with eight rushing touchdowns.

Questions also remain on defense as to whether UTSA can slow down the Ragin’ Cajuns’ trio of weapons.

Betting Odds

Courtesy of FanDuel

Spread: Louisiana -13.5
Over/Under: 55.5


“Foos-ball? Buncha overgrown monsters man-handlin’ each other…” –Mama in “The Waterboy” (1998)

We could see a physical game between the real-life counterpart of the SCLSU Mud Dogs and a team that puts the “run” in Roadrunners.

Louisiana has made a habit of pulling off special teams plays and timely interceptions in big games, so if UTSA can limit these momentum plays, they could cover the spread.

With NFL games also scheduled for Saturday, the First Responder Bowl might make for a pleasant afternoon matinee for college football fans after the Christmas leftovers.

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Final Score: Louisiana 30, UTSA 17