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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 8, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Veterans Memorial Stadium (30,000) -- Troy, Alabama. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: UL 1-0, Troy 0-0. Away Record: UL 0-0, Troy 1-0. Neutral Record: UL 0-0, Troy 0-0. Conference Record: UL 0-0, Troy 0-0. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 8-7.
GAME NOTES: Two of the best offenses in the Sun Belt Conference collide this weekend, as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns storm into Veterans Memorial Stadium to battle the Troy Trojans.
Louisiana made the college football world aware it means business this year by shutting out Lamar, 40-0, in its season opener on Saturday. The Ragin' Cajuns had not held an opponent scoreless in their 69 previous games prior. Head coach Mark Hudspeth owns a 10-4 record since making his debut last season. In 2011, Hudspeth led the Ragin' Cajuns to a 32-30 victory over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl for the school's first bowl win since 1944. Louisiana's coach was reportedly a candidate for multiple head coaching vacancies at programs within BCS conferences, but he elected to return to Lafayette with a SBC Championship in his cross hairs.
Troy also comes in with a 1-0 record after kicking off its 2012 season with a 39-29 road victory over UAB. The Trojans built an early 17-0 lead in the contest, but their instate rivals refused to go away. Head coach Larry Blakeney has to be optimistic of his team's potential after watching it withstand a Blazers' rally and put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Blakeney, now in his 22nd season as the school's head coach, has coached the Trojans to a record five league titles and nine more wins in SBC play than any other rival. Troy went 3-9 in 2011, but it has not experienced back-to-back losing seasons since the 1988-1989 seasons.
This will be the 16th meeting in history between the programs. In 2011, Louisiana took an 8-7 lead in the all-time series by defeating Troy, 31-17, in Lafayette. The victory snapped the Trojans' five-game winning streak over the Ragin' Cajuns.
Louisiana took its foot off the gas pedal and failed to score in the final two quarters of its opener, after posting 40 first half points on Lamar. The UL offense transformed into one of the most dangerous in the conference last season when Blaine Gautier seized the starting job.
The senior quarterback set a handful of single season program records, including passing yards (2,958) and touchdowns (23), before he posted a school record 492 yards of total offense versus the Aztecs in the New Orleans Bowl.
Javone Lawson (1,092 yards, eight TDs) and Harry Peoples (697 yards, 58 catches) both returned after finishing as UL's leading wide receivers in 2011. Lawson pulled in his 11th career touchdown catch against Lamar.
Gautier and company have the potential to be deadly this season due to an improvement in the rushing attack. The Ragin' Cajuns keep opponents off- balanced with the running back tandem of Alonzo Harris (2011 SBC Freshman of the Year) and freshman Effrem Reed. Both players managed to cross the goal line in the opener.
Despite the loaded offensive lineup, Louisiana's place-kicker Brett Baer had a career day in the first game of his senior season. Baer made a career-long 52- yard field goal to open the game and connected on his next three attempts to extend his program record streak of 15 made field goals.
The Cajuns not only shut out Lamar, they also forced their FCS opponent into four first half turnovers. Senior Rodney Gillis made his first career start even more memorable by recovering a fumble and recording an interception.
Hudspeth's team delivered its best defensive performance in week one, but will be out to prove itself against FBS competition.
Troy will be much tougher to keep at bay with QB Corey Robinson under center. Despite being just a game into his junior campaign, Robinson is just 386 yards and four passes shy of tying Brock Nutter's program records for career passing yards (7,687) and passing attempts (1,037).
Not only did Troy return 85.2 percent of its 2,978 receiving yards from 2011, it also gets back senior wideout Chip Reeves who sat out the 2011 season after being declared academically ineligible. Reeves made up for lost time by tearing up the UAB secondary for 125 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
Despite leading the SBC in passing each of the past three seasons, the Trojans used a dynamic rushing attack in the opener to push past UAB. Senior Shawn Southward was unstoppable and set new career highs with 204 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Southward's breakout performance gave him the fifth most yards in the NCAA during the opening weekend of play.
Blakeney's squad transitioned from a traditional four-man defensive front to a 3-4-4 scheme over the offseason after allowing 33.7 points and 465.0 yards per game in 2011. The new scheme did not make an immediate difference versus UAB, as the Blazers racked up 459 total yards.
Troy's defense was clutch by forcing UAB's Jonathan Perry into two fourth-quarter turnovers. The defense finished the game with four takeaways.
This early season Sun Belt bout could have implications as both of these teams are built to contend for the league title. Troy was held to 17 points the last time it faced Louisiana, but the Trojans no longer sport a one-dimensional offense. Troy's new defensive scheme will need to come together in a hurry as the Ragin' Cajuns have the firepower to light up the scoreboard.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana 38, Troy 34
09/05 10:33:46 ET