GAME PREVIEW: Louisiana at Texas

TV/STREAMING: FOX/WATCH FOX SPORTS LIVE

Texas is starting over with their fourth head coach since 2013 in Steve Sarkisians’s debut in Austin. This is not your normal opening game for a Power Five school as they welcome in a Top 25 ranked opponent in Louisiana.

The Ragin’ Cajuns are not new to facing a a Big 12 school to start their season. Head coach Billy Napier’s team kicked off the 2020 season with a 31-14 win over Iowa State in Ames. It was a sign of things to come for Louisiana, who finished the year with a 10-1 record. And this year’s team just might be better than last year’s as 20 starters are back for the Cajuns.

Should they win out, this game will help Louisiana make a strong pitch to deserve a New Year’s Six bowl game–something they probably would have had a strong case for a year ago had they not lost to Sun Belt foe Coastal Carolina during the regular season.

Texas has not been Texas of old recently.

There is a reason for the number of coaching changes in Austin as the team with possibly the most resources of any athletic program, has not found a way to get the results on the field. In fact, since 2013, the best record the Longhorns have achieved was a 10-4 record in 2018 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia.

This might sound like a good season, and it was, but Texas wants to be a part of the playoff picture–something it has not been since winning the national title in the old BCS days in 2006.

This is the third match-up in this series with all games being played in Austin. It is also the third time each has opened their seasons against each other. The Longhorns won the prior two matches that happened in 2000 and 2005. Texas won each of those games by large margins with the closest being a 52-10 win in 2000.

It should be fair to say that the margin of victory will not be this much between these two Top 25 ranked teams. In the AP rankings, Texas comes in at #21, while Louisiana is #23 and in the Coach’s poll Louisiana is #23 and Texas is #19. This will be Louisiana’s first game where both teams are ranked in the Top 25 polls.

Below is a statistical comparison between the two teams (using 2020 season numbers):

LOUISIANA RAGIN’ CAJUNS (10-1 7-1 SBC) IN 2020

Louisiana will be led by a dangerous offensive attack that returns 10 starters behind third-year starting quarterback Levi Lewis and ranked third in the Sun Belt in scoring offense (33.6 PPG), fourth in rushing offense (213 YPG), eighth in passing offense, (208 YPG), and fifth in total offense (421.5 YPG).

As these numbers indicate, the Ragin’ Cajuns rely on their running game to set up the pass. The running game is where the Cajuns lost most of its production from last year. Both RBs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Regas are gone and the Cajuns will need to relay on Chris Smith in the running game, who last year used his legs more so in the return game.

The passing attack will have all the top receivers back from a year ago and Louisiana added another new weapon in pass catching area in The unit TCU transfer John Stephens Jr.

The Cajuns defense was very good against the pass but were average against the run a year ago, allowing 4.3 yards per rush. That put them squarely in the middle of the pack nationally and in the Sun Belt. This will likely be an area that Texas will try to exploit so look for the Louisiana defense to force the passing game and use its strong secondary that includes to match-up with the Texas wide outs.

CBs Eric Garror and Mekhi Garner combined for six interceptions and 13 pass breakups to lead the secondary. LBs Ferrod Gardner and Lorenzo McCaskill were excellent blitzers and sure tacklers so look for them to supply pressure to the new Texas quarterback.

KEY PLAYER: QB LEVI LEWIS

Lewis will be the key for Cajuns to pull off what would be a mild upset over Texas. He needs to avoid interceptions and not take chances. The Cajun defense was +10 in turnovers and a big reason for their success was getting the ball back into the offenses hands. This will have to be the case in this game as will the kick return game (which was a big help in Louisiana’s upset of Iowa State a year ago). If he can avoid the turnovers, the Cajuns will have a chance at the end to win this game.

TEXAS LONGHORNS (7-3 5-3 BIG 12) IN 2020

In the past two seasons the as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, Coach Sarkisian was the architect of 24 straight games in which the Crimson Tide’s offense scored 35 or more points, the longest streak in FBS history.

In this game, the Longhorns are breaking in a new starting quarterback in freshman Hudson Card and with the wide receiver group lacking depth, but where they do not lack experience is in the running game, namely RB Bijan Robinson. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry after contact last season and turned 20.7 percent of his rushing attempts into gains of 10 or more yards.

Card was the winner of a preseason QB competition versus sophomore Casey Thompson. But the Longhorns have the advantage of talent overall against the Cajuns but will need to find their excicusion with a new coach and new quarterback running the show.

The Texas defense has a strong secondary and are big upfront. They have LB DeMarvion Overshown, who was second on the team in tackles in 2020 and he looks to be one of the leaders of the Texas defense in 2021.

KEY PLAYER: RB BIJAN ROBINSON

As was pointed out above, Robinson has the ability to break tackles and was one of the best in the country in still gaining yardage after contact. With a new coach and new quarterback, Robinson will be the key player to try and open up the passing game. If he can break a few big runs, this will likely put more Louisiana defenders in the box to try to stop him and then open up some passing for the new QB Card.

FEARLESS PREDICTION:

I have to be honest that I had a feeling last year that Louisiana would give Iowa State a good game and one that might come down to the wire. Instead, Louisiana won the game easily. I have that same kind of feeling in this one that experienced teams (even if not quite as talented) will have an edge in a season opening game. Texas will have the home crowd but the Cajuns have played on the road before and have come out on top before. This result might shock a lot of people but Louisiana and Coach Billy Napier have built a team that very well could go undefeated this season. It starts with what possibly is the toughest opponent in this one. I think Texas will make enough mistakes that the Cajuns will capitalize on and win the game where it is close throughout and fairly low scoring. Louisiana 27 Texas 21

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