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Football: Cajuns’ defense steps up big

Chad Washington, The Advertiser, November 1, 2014



UL linebacker Dominique Tovell (52) sacks South Alabama Jaguars quarterback Brandon Bridge (7) during the Cajuns’ 19-9 homecoming win Saturday at Cajun Field. (Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)



After giving up almost 600 yards of offense in the win over Arkansas State, the UL defense turned in probably its best performance of the season.

In doing so, the Ragin’ Cajuns did everything that a defense is supposed to do – put pressure on the quarterback, stop the running game and create turnovers. UL did all of that at key times on its way to a 19-9 win over South Alabama on Saturday evening at Cajun Field.

UL held the Jaguars to only 66 yards rushing and forced a fumble late in the game to turn away a potential go-ahead score. It’s all the ingredients that head coach Mark Hudspeth felt the defense wasn’t getting early in the season when the Cajuns suffered a three-game losing streak in September.

"That’s good defense, causing a turnover," Hudspeth said. "Our defense is getting better at causing turnovers and playing hard. When you play hard and you play assignment football, you’re going to do your job and take your gap and cover your third, you’re going to have a chance to create some turnovers. And that was a big stop by the defense."

After UL took a 12-9 lead on Hunter Stover’s fourth field goal of the game, South Alabama put together a couple of pass plays – including a 41-yard pass from quarterback Matt Floyd to wideout Marvin Shinn – that put the Jags at the UL 4 and looking to take the lead. Three plays later at the Cajun 2, Floyd couldn’t handle the handoff and lost control of the ball. UL defensive end Christian Ringo got the bouncing ball to end the threat.

"I had to fight for that one," Ringo said, who had five tackles on the night, three of them for losses. "It was bouncing everywhere, and thank God it bounced my way and I got it."

The fumble led to a touchdown that put the game out of reach and has UL on a four-game winning streak and 4-0 in Sun Belt Conference play. The defense then forced South Alabama to turn the ball over on downs on their ensuing drive.

"We hadn’t really moved the ball offensively as much as I would have like to throughout the game," South Alabama head coach Joey Jones said. "But we had a chance when we got inside the 2-yard line and turned it over. Give them credit; they did a good job playing in the fourth quarter."

During the streak, the defense has been strong for the most part, especially the front seven in getting pressure on the quarterback and getting turnovers at the right time. And the Cajuns have done this despite several lineup changes from game-to-game because of injuries and matchup issues. And most of those changes involved some freshmen either starting or playing significant minutes in games.

"We played a lot of guys in the front four and rotated a lot of guys at linebacker," he said. "So I tell you, it was pretty impressive to see that many guys getting to play and have a big impact on the game."

One of those younger players is linebacker Tre’maine Lightfoot, who got four tackles in the game in his first time getting major playing time. But a lot of the credit also goes to Ringo, who ranks first in the Sun Belt Conference in tackles for losses (14.0) and third in sacks (6.0).

"Ringo is playing so consistent right now and so hard and strong," Hudspeth said. "Once again, he’s playing in 1-on-1 situations when he was not in those earlier in the year. And then Tre’maine Lightfoot is showing what we felt like we had. He’s making an impact with the defensive unit. So I’m really proud of those guys."

With some tough road games left on the schedule – including next week at New Mexico State – Hudspeth and the rest of the Cajuns hope the defensive intensity can continue and lead UL to its second-straight Sun Belt title.

"That was strong. And to see our guys time and time again rise up… and we made them earn stuff," Hudspeth said. "They had to fight for every inch. We had some big plays, big hits. It was an impressive performance to say the least, I thought, by our defensive players tonight. I thought they played really hard. They tried to play in the scheme of things, and it really paid off."