Secondary was a primary force in No. 25 Ragin' Cajuns' win over South Alabama
It no longer is a secret.
But the Ragin’ Cajuns secondary quietly has emerged as one of the country’s best.
That was evident again in the Cajuns’ 38-10 home win over South Alabama on Saturday, a victory that not only sealed their third straight Sun Belt Conference West Division title but also solidified their position in the big picture.
UL returned to the Amway Coaches Poll on Sunday, reappearing at No. 25 after a few weeks away as both SMU (19) and Army (25) fell out. The Cajuns had been second among others receiving votes.
UL (7-1, 5-1 Sun Belt) also moved up Sunday from No. 25 to No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25.
The showing from UL’s defensive backs Saturday is a big reason the Cajuns remain nationally relevant.
UL had nine pass breakups, six of them from the secondary. That’s more than a third compared to the 24 total it had in seven prior games combined.
The secondary also produced two of UL’s three sacks, something coach Billy Napier said stemmed from defensive coordinator Patrick Toney doing “a nice job of calling them at the right time … against the right set.”
“That’s the whole key, it trying to position the players – have a concept call that positions them for success and is sound,” Napier said, “and Coach Toney and the defensive staff were outstanding (Saturday).
“I mean, we held that group to under 300 yards (268). I thought we did a really nice job of limiting the rushing attack (too).”
Starting cornerback Mekhi Garner, who had four of the breakups, attributed it to “the DBs just finishing.”
“We emphasized that during the week,” said Garner, who also had his first career sack. “We watched a ton of film. … That’s all it was.”
Safety Percy Butler had UL’s lone interception Saturday, ending South Alabama’s opening drive and adding to a total that now leads the Sun Belt.
The unit’s 11 interceptions have UL tied for fourth-most in the country, trailing only Arkansas (13), Wake Forest (12) and Cincinnati (12).
Garror almost added to his count Saturday, but his wound-be interception was negated by a roughing the passer penalty.
Trahan has eight breakups, tied for sixth-most among FBS leaders. The Acadiana High product had his eighth against South Alabama.
Butler, whose pick was the Plaquemine High product’s first in his Cajun career, also forced a fumbled recovered by defensive lineman Zi’Yon Hill and finished with a team-high six total tackles including one sack Saturday.
And safety Cam Solomon had perhaps the second-biggest defensive play of the day, disrupting a Desmond Trotter throw to Jalen Tolbert and forcing the Jaguars to kick a first-quarter field goal instead of cutting the Cajun lead to seven.
South Alabama, which went into the day averaging 256.3 passing yards per game, was limited to 145 Saturday including just 39 in the second half.
Tolbert, who had been averaging a team-high 86.0 receiving yards per game, was limited to 64 on five catches. Kawaan Baker, who had been averaging 75.4 receiving yards per game, had only 43 on six grabs.
UL’s solid pass defense didn’t come at the expense of the run, either, as the Jaguars managed only 123 total rushing yards – right around its pre-game average of 119.
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Forty-one of those yards on the South Alabama’s final drive, when subs were in and the game no longer was in doubt.
Strong first-down defense throughout the day forced the Jaguars into obvious passing situations, making things easier on the Cajun secondary.
“That was at the top of the list, was try to control the line of scrimmage, stop the run, create some negatives, make them play in second-and-long and third-and-long,” Napier said. “We certainly did that. We wanted to … stop the run, create favorable down-and-distance on defense.”