McGuire, Riles Carry Cajuns Past South Alabama
Happy Birthday to you, Al Riles.
The Cajuns' senior celebrated his 23 rd birthday by hauling in eight passes for 139 yards and a touchdown as Louisiana won its Sun Belt opener, defeating South Alabama 28-23 before 19,208 fans at Cajun Field Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Elijah McGuire had the second best statistical game of his career, rushing for 225 yards on 23 carries as the Cajuns logged a season high 512 yards of offense in the victory.
"Wow," gushed Cajuns' head coach Mark Hudspeth after the game. "That's a performance lots of the Ragin' Cajun fans will remember a long time," speaking of McGuire's night.
The Cajuns' defense held South Alabama to 338 yards in offense, including just 74 net rushing yards. Dallas Davis led South Alabama's offense, hitting on 21-19 passes for 254 yards and two scores. The Jaguars' star tight end, Gerald Everett, led the Jags (1-2, 0-2 Sun Belt) with 83 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.
"Man, our defense really played hard," Hudspeth said. "We did a nice job against their running game. Otha Peters and Tremaine Lightfoot had solid games for us." The Cajuns defense had two sacks and nine tackles for loss in the game.
Cajuns' quarterback Anthony Jennings completed 18-26 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted twice.
"He got it right when he threw it on the first one," Hudspeth said. "The second one, I know he'd like to have that one back." The second interception came on a deep throw to Riles which was overthrown. It was the only time Riles was targeted that didn't result in a completion.
The Cajuns (2-1, 1-0) scored on their very first possession, driving 75 yards in eleven plays. Jennings completed a 28 yard pass to tight end Nick Byrne on third and 18 to get the ball in the red zone and then threw to Michael Jacquet on a crossing pattern for a 17 yard touchdown to give the Cajuns a 6-0 lead. Stevie Artigue's extra point hit the crossbar.
"Really disappointed with our kicking game tonight," Hudspeth said. "We missed two extra points and a field goal and made a poor decision on a punt that gave us bad field position. We have to clean that up."
The Cajuns got a turnover on the next possession when Karmichael Dunbar forced a fumble and Tracy Walker recovered at the South Alabama 25. But Artigue missed from 40 yards and the Cajuns came away with no points.
The Jaguars bounced back, driving 77 yards in nine plays to take the lead on a six yard run by Tyreis Thomas on the second play of the second quarter to grab a 7-6 advantage. After neither team got anything going on their next two possessions, Louisiana put together a 40 yard drive in nine plays, culminating in a 31 yard field goal from Artigue to give the Cajuns a 9-7 lead at the break.
The Cajuns drove 69 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a 46 yard run by McGuire, but the Cajuns came away empty as Jalen Nixon was stopped inches short on fourth down from the USA seven yard line. But after a Jaguars' punt. Jennings pump faked and hit Riles in stride and the senior slot receiver did the rest, outrunning the Jags' secondary to complete a 71 yard touchdown. But Artigue missed his second PAT of the night, leaving the score 15-7.
After a Jaguars punt, the Cajuns took over on their own 17 and Jennings immediately hit Riles on passes of 17 and 14 yards to put the ball near midfield. McGuire broke free for 13 yards and Jennings then hit Keenan Barnes down the sideline for a 38 yard score to make the score 22-7 with just under five minutes to go in the third.
Davis led a Jaguars' drive on the next possession, completing passes of 31 yards to Kevin Kutchera, eighteen yards to Everett and then found Grant Powell for an 18 yard touchdown to cut the lead to 22-14 with 1:50 left in the third. And, when Darrel Songy hit Jennings as he threw, Neiko Robinson intercepted to give USA the ball at the Cajuns' 24 yard line. The Jaguars got to the six yard line before the Cajuns' defense forced a 23 yard field goal by Gavin Patterson and South Alabama pulled to within 22-17 early in the fourth.
Despite intercepting Jennings again on the next possession, South Alabama was unable to get past the UL 42 and Louisiana got the ball back at its own 11 yard line with 9:09 left. Four plays later, McGuire broke into the secondary on a run up the middle and ran away from the South Alabama secondary for a 68 yard touchdown run to increase the lead to 28-17. South Alabama scored on a Davis pass to Everett with just over three minutes to play, but that was the last gasp as Jennings hit Riles for 22 yards on second down and McGuire ripped off another 24 yards on the next play, enabling the Cajuns to run out the clock.
The Cajuns finished the game with perfect balance, tallying 256 yards both rushing and passing in the game. The Cajuns' defense held South Alabama to just 4-12 on third down. After being penalized ten times a week ago, Louisiana had just four penalties for 30 yards in the contest.
Louisiana will now take on the Tulane Green Wave at Yulman Stadium next Saturday night in New Orleans in the Cajuns' first road contest of the season. Tulane dropped a 21-14 contest to Navy Saturday night. The Green Wave will bring a 1-2 record into the game.