Football: Louisiana weaponizes Bradley, Mitchell in win over South Alabama
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Nov. 18, 2018
All season, UL has boasted about its arsenal of offensive weapons.
The wide variety of options was on display again Saturday, when the Ragin’ Cajuns beat South Alabama 48-38 at Cajun Field to become bowl-eligible for the sixth time in eight seasons.
The win sends 6-5 UL to UL Monroe on Saturday knowing it can claim a spot in the Dec. 1 Sun Belt championship game with a victory over the Warhawks.
“Good team win. Good to be bowl-eligible,” first-year Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “Certainly (that was) one of our goals, but, big-picture wise, we’ve got bigger goals and bigger ambitions in front us.”
Meaning getting to the first-ever Sun Belt title game.
Related: Breakdown of UL's win
The Cajuns still can, but with its defense ailing Saturday, allowing 477 yards of total offense to now 2-9 Jaguars, UL might not be in the position it is in if it weren’t for that aforementioned firepower.
Receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley did most of the damage in the first half, catching touchdown passes of 17, 44 and 1 yards to help UL going into the break up 24-17.
Running back Elijah Mitchell picked up from there, running in from 45 yards out with just more than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, from 1 yard away with 13 seconds left in the third and from 3 yards out to help make it 48-31 with 2:12 remaining.
“We’ve got a team, you know?” Napier said. “We’ve got a group that, when their number gets called, they make plays.
“There is tremendous production from lots of different players, and that’s the way I really want it on offense. I want to spread it around. I want to be difficult to defense, and not necessarily a one-horse operation.
“Although if you do have one that’s got a hot hand,” Napier added, “you’ve got ride him, and certainly we’ve got some guys that are very capable.”
Live updates: Ragin' Cajuns beat Jaguars, 48-38
On other nights this season, it’s been some combination of running backs Mitchell, Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais Jr. along with receivers Bradley and Bam Jackson.
In this instance, it was Bradley and Mitchell who did the bulk of the damage on South Alabama.
Mitchell, a sophomore from Erath High, had his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season and, including 121 receiving yards against Arkansas State, his fifth 100-yard game of the year.
He’s now up to a team-high 12 rushing TDs too, and he also had his third multi-rushing TD game of the season.
“It’s very hard for the defense, whoever we’re playing, because we have Ja’Marcus and all the other receivers,” Mitchell said of the all the tools in Napier’s box. “If we can’t run one day, we’re throwing the ball. So, it’s really good to have both sides work — in the backfield, and at wide receiver.”
Bradley, whose three catches tied a school record for most touchdowns receptions in the same game, could not agree more.
It’s the sixth time that’s happened in UL history, and it’s the most in the Sun Belt in any single game this season.
“It means a lot (to have so many weapons), because any given night it can be any given player,” the junior from Mississippi said. “Tonight it just happened to be me.
“But … a couple games ago, it was Bam Jackson. Next game it could be Ryheem Malone,” added Bradley, who now has nine touchdown grabs this year. “And with the three-headed monster (of Mitchell, Ragas and Calais) in the backfield, you never know.”
UL took an early 3-0 lead Saturday with a 23-yard Kyle Pfau field goal.
With usual starter Evan Orth injured, backup Cole Garvin got the start at quarterback for South Alabama — and was promptly picked by UL safety Deuce Wallace on the Jaguars’ first play from scrimmage.
Three plays later, Andre Nunez hit Ja’Marcus Bradley with the 17-yard touchdown throw to help put the Cajuns up 10-0.
“Ja’Marcus is a no-nonsense, blue-collar guy,” Napier said. “He’s goes about his business. He’s tough. He’s a good teammate. He plays without the ball just as good as when he’s catching.”
Bradley wasn’t done catching after first against Jaguars, however.
When UL backup quarterback Levi Lewis entered for his first drive of the game — pre-planned, as usual — and he hit Bradley with the 44-yard touchdown throw on the drive’s opening play.
UL snapped the 24-24 tie with Mitchell’s 45-yard touchdown run, which came on a three-play drive that just 39 seconds off the clock.
On a night the Cajuns were held to 54 first-half rushing yards, it was just what UL needed to break things open.
All of which now leaves Napier with a chance, with one game remaining in the regular season, to look over his long list of options before heading to Monroe with plenty on the line.
“Probably the only negative about tonight is I feel like there were plays out there I feel like we could have done much better,” he said. “But … we’re gonna enjoy this thing tonight, and we’ll be in there (Sunday) and roll our sleeves up and go get ready to play this last one.”
Unless there’s another one — in the Sun Belt title game, and/or a bowl, that is.