As usual, there was a team running rampant across the turf a Paulson Stadium en route to a win on Saturday night.
But that team wasn’t Georgia Southern.
Louisiana-Lafayette hit the gas on its run game throughout the night while Georgia Southern’s option attack mostly just spun its wheels. At the end of the night, the result was a 37-24 win for the Ragin’ Cajuns, leaving Georgia Southern staring at a 1-3 record and a ton of work to do if it wants to achieve many of the goals it set for itself this season.
“It’s hard to stand up here after losing at home,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said at his postgame press conference. “We knew this was going to be a tough game and a 60-minute battle. And when you look at (Lafayette) having a 14-3 advantage in the fourth quarter, well, that shows that we didn’t do what we had to.”
Louisiana-Lafayette controlled the final quarter to salt things away, but also had its way for the majority of the game.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt) racked up 440 yards of total offense. And while they were held under their season average on the ground, they still outrushed the Eagles (103, 0-1) by 50 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns to add to their nation-leading total that now stands at 22 for the season.
Georgia Southern fell behind early as Lafayette needed just five plays to go 75 yards for a touchdown to open up the game. The Eagles pulled to within 7-6 on the strength of two Tyler Bass field goals early in the second quarter.
The Cajuns extended their lead on a 3 yard touchdown run by Trey Ragas. It was the first of two scoring runs for Ragas, who totalled 131 yards to lead all rushers on the night.
Georgia Southern pulled within about again when Logan Wright powered in from four yards out, but ULL inched forward to a 17-13 halftime lead when Stevie Artigue connected on a 25 yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
ULL quarterback Levi Lewis (11-of-16, 165 yds., TD) made it a 24-13 game when he scrambled to buy time on a 4th-and-goal play before finding Ja’Mar Bradley for a 1-yard scoring strike.
J.D. King scored his first touchdown for Georgia Southern with 15 seconds to go in the third quarter and a successful conversion brought the Eagles within a field goal, but that’s when the Cajuns put the clamps down.
ULL responded with a touchdown drive of its own - capped off by a 19-yard Elija Mitchell run - and while Bass’ third field goal of the game kept the Eagles within a score late in the game, the Cajuns slammed the door as Ragas plunged in from a yard out with just over two minutes to play.
“Once again, I look at 14-3 in the fourth quarter,” Lunsford said. “One of our points we look at for each game is how we finish. That’s not how you finish a game against a team that was in the Sun Belt title game last year. That’s something we need to fix.”
Two of the Eagles’ scoring drives were set up by recovered fumbles off of muffed punts, and the Eagles were able to win the turnover battle that has often been an indicator of success.
But Georgia Southern continued to struggle in red zone situations, trading possible touchdowns for field goals. And while the Eagles cleaned up some penalty issues that have hurt them this season by drawing just three flags Saturday night, those penalties came at particularly inopportune times and continued issues with bad snaps also contributed to derailing a few drives.
To hit the panic button would be cliche - and probably a bit premature - but the screws are starting to tighten on the Eagles.
Many of the Eagles’ toughest games still lay ahead of them, and are road contests to boot. At the very least, this is a Georgia Southern team that expects to go to a bowl and Saturday’s loss means that it will need at least five wins over its final eight games to qualify for the postseason.
The Eagles won’t have much time to reflect on that as a short week will send them to Mobile, Ala. for a Thursday night game against South Alabama next week.
“It would be a mistake to not look at the tape (from the ULL game) and evaluate us to focus on what we can do better,” Lunsford said. “But we also have to jump right into the next week. There won’t be an off day. The next meeting will be (Sunday). South Alabama is an improving team and one that we need to prepare for if we want to get a win next week.”