New Orleans, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns appear in the New Orleans Bowl yet again on Saturday, as they challenge the Nevada Wolf Pack in the 14th annual event at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Louisiana finished second in the Sun Belt Conference standings with a record of 7-1, trailing only Georgia Southern which despite being undefeated in eight league bouts, will not be playing in the postseason due to transitional status to the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Ragin's Cajuns didn't win their first game against an FBS opponent this season until the first week of October, but after that the squad nearly ran the table.
A six-game win streak for Louisiana was interrupted by a 35-16 setback against Appalachian State on Nov. 22, but the team responded by closing out the regular season with a 42-23 triumph at Troy.
As for the Wolf Pack, they placed third in the West Division of the Mountain West Conference, their 4-4 mark leaving them behind both San Diego State and Fresno State which were 5-3 in MWC action. In the middle of November, Nevada dropped a pair of outings against Air Force and FSU, but managed to respond with a 49-27 drubbing of in-state rival UNLV in Las Vegas in the final game of the regular season.
Nevada's bowl history traces back to the 1948 Salad Bowl, a 13-6 victory over North Texas, but the program has come out on top in just four of 13 postseason appearances, the most recent of which was a 49-48 loss to Arizona in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl.
"I am very excited that our players and staff will have one more opportunity to compete together at the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl," said Nevada coach Brian Polian. "The game presents us a chance to pursue an eighth win on the season and also serves as a reward for our players, who have worked so hard this year. This bowl also gives our young people a chance to spend some time in New Orleans and continue to enjoy the opportunities and experiences that being a football player at the University of Nevada provides."
Somewhat surprisingly, the Ragin' Cajuns have a much more favorable postseason mark of 4-1, with the first victory coming in the 1944 Oil Bowl versus Arkansas A&M (24-7). The last three seasons Louisiana has appeared in the New Orleans Bowl, coming out on top each and every time. Last year, the squad captured a 24-21 win over Tulane, another strong representative from the region.
In terms of an all-time series between these teams, the Pack won the only previous matchup back in 1995 by a score of 38-14.
For Nevada, which is appearing in the postseason for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons, the team revolves around the efforts of quarterback Cody Fajardo. The signal caller is a threat both with his arm and his legs, and must be considered dangerous no matter what the situation. Against San Diego State this season, he became just the second player in FBS history to have at least 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in a career -- the only other player on that elite list being former Nevada quarterback and current 49ers passer Colin Kaepernick.
Fajardo ranks third among active FBS players in total offense with his 12,968 yards, trailing only Marshall's Rakeem Cato (14,612) and Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke (16,279), the latter doing most of his damage at the FCS level before the Monarchs moved up in competition.
Other key performers on the Nevada offense are running backs Don Jackson and James Butler, who have combined to produce more than 1,500 yards and 12 TDs on the ground for a unit that ranks 56th nationally with 413.0 ypg.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolf Pack are far from perfect these days. The team surrenders 450.1 ypg, ranking them 103rd in the country heading into bowl season, with the pass coverage highly lacking as the group gives up 271.0 ypg, which is 112th nationally. Jonathan McNeal owns a team-high 95 tackles, has recovered three fumbles and forced two others, while Nigel Haikins and Duran Workman tied for the team lead with three interceptions apiece.
Ian Seau has provided some of the strongest pressure at the line of scrimmage with his 9.5 tackles for loss and team-high 7.5 sacks, his TFL total second only to Rykeem Yates (10.5 TFL) who has appeared in just nine games.
As for the Ragin' Cajuns, they have an overall offense that rivals Nevada, producing 417.9 ypg, but the squad's passing attack is severely lacking with just 188.5 ypg. Terrance Broadway has taken the majority of the snaps for the squad, connecting on better than 61 percent of his attempts for just over 2,000 yards. He has tossed a dozen TDs, but has also been intercepted nine times.
Broadway doesn't appear to have a favorite receiver on the roster, at least not one that stands out as a game-breaker. Elijah McGuire has the most receptions with 40 in his 10 appearances, leading to 414 yards, while James Butler has 30 grabs for 417 yards, although the latter failed to reach the end zone during the regular season.
McGuire is much more dangerous as a ball carrier with his 150 attempts for 1,165 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Alonzo Harris accounted for 12 TDs of his own on 159 attempts. As a group, the Ragin' Cajuns scored 31 TDs on the ground and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
On defense, the most devastating performer for the Cajuns during the regular season was Christian Ringo who, despite making a total of just 42 stops, logged 19.0 TFL and 10.5 sacks, both of which led a unit that was giving up 27.9 ppg.