Since head coach Mark Hudspeth took over the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns in the 2011 season, Louisiana has gone 36-16 with four consecutive 9-4 seasons and four consecutive wins in the New Orleans Bowl. In order to keep those streaks alive or even pull off the first 10+ win season in school history, these ten things must be taken care of in the 2015 season.
Fix the return game: The Ragin' Cajuns were one of the lower tier teams in the nation in 2014 returning punts and kickoffs. Louisiana ranked #109 nationally in kickoff returns last season with a 19.0 yards per return average. Montrel Carter was the primary kickoff returner and averaged 20.6 yards per return with a long of 34 yards. Carter could get some help from fellow running back Torry Pierce who returned three kickoffs for a 24.0 yards per return average. Pierce is coming off of a season ending knee injury in 2014 but has the big play ability that is needed in the return game. Another running back, sophomore Darrius Hoggins, saw return duty on two occasions and may see a bigger spot in the return game with Pierce coming off of the injury. Starting running back Elijah McGuire returned the majority of the punts in 2014 with a 7.7 yards per return average. It would be a stunner to see the star back returning punts in 2015 with so much of the offense on his shoulders with the loss of Alonzo Harris to graduation.
Be efficient in the red zone: The Ragin' Cajuns were one of only two teams in the nation, Memphis being the other, to finish the 2014 season in the top 10 nationally in red zone offense and defense. Louisiana scored 36 touchdowns and 16 field goals in the red zone for a 91.2% while holding opponents to a 73.3% rate with only 23 touchdowns and 10 field goals. Much of the percentage has to do with opponent field goal kicking accuracy but when forcing field goal attempts from opponents, that takes a possible four points off the board. Over the course of a season, those numbers add up significantly and become the difference between a bowl berth and staying home.
Get more production out of the passing game: Despite having Broadway at quarterback for his fourth year last season, Louisiana had one of the worst passing offenses in the nation. The Ragin' Cajuns could only muster 191.5 yards per game in the air but the more surprising number was a FBS #112 ranked yards per completion at 10.5. The Ragin' Cajuns have yet to announce a starter at quarterback to replace Broadway with juniors Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon as well as redshirt freshman Jordan Davis in the mix. Haack has to be the favorite to take over for Broadway but one of those quarterbacks needs to step up and be the man this fall to bring some balance offensively to this team.
Win the time of possession battle: Part of the allure of an offense that can control the game on the ground is the ability to shorten games and win the time of possession battle. Louisiana did that in 2014, finishing in the top 25 nationally with 31.43 minutes of possession per game. This was a very good statistic as the Ragin' Cajuns struggled on defense last fall with a defense that struggled to contain the passing game with the #105 ranked passing defense in the nation. The Louisiana defense only forced 17 turnovers on the season so holding on to the football and winning the time of possession is key.
Get the ball in McGuire's hands: Since arriving at Louisiana, McGuire has put up an 8.0 yards per carry average with 23 rushing touchdowns. The junior back has also caught 67 passes for 852 yards and five touchdowns. McGuire is by far the best NFL prospect for the Ragin' Cajuns and will see the ball even more often with Harris gone to graduation and a possible NFL roster spot. The trick for Hudspeth and company is to use McGuire as much as possible without wearing him out and making him worthless for the tail end of the schedule. His ability will be needed for a November 28 matchup versus Appalachian State in the season's penultimate game.
Make game changing plays on defense: Easier said than done, the ability of a defense to flip the field with a turnover, score on defense, and sack the quarterback can turn a projected six win team into a nine or more win team. Defensive scores are the biggest game changers in the sport of football. Nine of the top 13 teams in defensive touchdowns made bowl games in 2014 with arguably the two best teams in the nation (Ohio State and TCU) both tied for second with six defensive touchdowns. The Ragin' Cajuns were able to force 17 turnovers on the season but that total put them in the same category as 2014 FBS floormats California, Massachusetts, Kent State, and Idaho. Just breaking the 20 turnovers created plateau could result in another win and give Louisana its first 10-win season since... ever.
Start the season strong: Louisiana has not been the team under Hudspeth to schedule overly light in the non-conference slate with the last two years playing Arkansas, Kansas State, Nicholls State, Akron, Southern, Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Boise State. In those early games, the Ragin' Cajuns have gone 3-5 with three losses to Power Five Conference programs. Louisiana only faces one Power Five Conference team this fall with a season opening trip to Kentucky. After the SEC foe, the Ragin' Cajuns face Northwestern State and Akron before traveling to face Louisiana Tech. 2-2 to start the season is an extremely attainable goal but even more important is for Louisiana to come out of those four games healthy and with good morale by hanging close even in defeat. The inability to compete in the Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Boise State games and low morale nearly resulted in Louisiana getting shocked by Georgia State to start conference play. That cannot afford to happen in 2015 as conference play starts with a tricky Texas State squad before a trip to Arkansas State.
Protect home field: The Ragin' Cajuns have been very good under Hudspeth inside the friendly confines of Cajun Field with an 18-4 overall home record. During Hudspeth's time at Louisiana, the Ragin' Cajuns have seen five of the top 10 crowds in school history while providing a huge home field advantage. Louisiana should be favored in every home game this fall and would go a long way in securing another season with at least nine wins.
Get something out of the freshmen on the roster: The Ragin' Cajuns currently have 109 players on the 2015 fall roster with 44 of those players being redshirt or true freshman. That total makes up 40.3% of the entire roster. True freshmen are the hardest players to figure out heading into the season. The move from high school to college is a significant jump in speed and skill with not every freshman able to make the adjustment immediately or in some cases, at all. The Louisiana coaching staff should be able to better tell what they have in the 12 redshirt freshmen on the roster for the upcoming season. If 6-8 of the 12 can earn a role on the depth chart, it would be a success for the 2015 season. Overall, the goals would be to see half of the 44 redshirt and true freshmen on the roster earn game experience.
Find a kicker and punter: The Ragin' Cajuns were blessed in 2014 with the 2nd team All-Sun Belt kicker and punter. Kicker Hunter Stover was excellent at field goals with at 18-22 with a long of 46 yards while also forcing a touchback on 44.2% of his kickoffs on the season, one of the highest rates from Group of Five kickers. Daniel Cadona was the punter with a 42.9 yards per punt average on 58 punts with a long of 77 yards, 24 punts landing inside the 20 yard line, and 18 punts traveling over 50 yards. The Ragin' Cajuns have only one kicker, freshman Stevie Artigue, on scholarship heading into the 2015 season. Artigue is a summer enrollee and will get every opportunity to earn the starting spot as a true freshman. Pushing Artigue will be three walkons in Dylan Scheurich, Carlos Alvarez, and Aaron Bird. Alvarez was one a scholarship player but left the team in 2013 and returned last season as a walkon. None of the three returning kickers have any game experience. Louisiana looks to rely upon another freshman in Steven Coutts, a kicker from Australia. Coutts would be the second straight Australian punter for the Ragin' Cajuns with Manton also from down under. Bird is also listed as a punter and will be the only major competition for Coutts.