Like the Vermilion River running through the middle of Lafayette, Louisiana, its Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns look to do the same to opposing defenses in 2019.
The state of Louisiana prides itself on a few things: food, fun and music. And nothing flows as musically as jazz, is as comforting as a good bowl of gumbo, or is as fun to watch as a great running game.
This is what the Ragin’ Cajuns developed last season and look to continue to build on this upcoming year.
In the era of the passing game being prominent, the Cajuns have zigged when everyone else has zagged. Don’t get me wrong, they still want to be productive in the passing game, and have some good foundation pieces to work with—namely in quarterback Levi Lewis and wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley—but they are going to make their boudin running the ball.
In the first year of offensive coordinator Rob Sale’s scheme, the Cajuns were able to pile up over 3,000 yards rushing in 2018, which put them third in the Sun Belt Conference and 22nd overall in the country.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, as Coach Sale’s track record speaks for itself.
As a former starter and standout offensive lineman for LSU, Sale has directed the offensive line and/or run game in his coaching career at every stop. His McNeese State Cowboys were one of the best rushing teams in the Southland Conference. He’s helped Georgia, UL-Monroe and Arizona State develop an identity on the ground, as well, paving the way from some excellent rushing production at all three stops.
Sale knows the offensive line and run game, just like Acadiana knows zydeco and crawfish boils.
A great run game just doesn’t happen, it’s something that’s cultivated and developed. Cutting his teeth in collegiate coaching as a strength and conditioning assistant at Alabama first, Sale brings uniqueness to coaching. He’s able to teach the position from a practical and functional development standpoint, which allows players to grow mentally, technically and functionally. When you combine that with continuity, great things can happen.
The Cajuns return all five starters up front, led by All-Sun Belt senior guard Kevin Dotson (6-4, 315), who is also an NFL prospect. Joining Dotson up front is left tackle Rico Robinson (6-5, 308), left guard Ken Marks (6-4, 300), center Cole Prudhomme (6-3, 293) and right tackle Robert Hunt (6-5 310), all of which are seniors.
You also have to factor in sophomore tackle Max Mitchell (6-6, 290), who is a key reserve that logged starts last season. When you have continuity in the message (coaching) and continuity in personnel (starters), you’re able to play faster and more cohesive as a unit. Watching the Cajuns offensive line on film and the guys up front really play well as a unit.
One of the biggest things you notice is how excellent these guys move. The Cajuns don’t shy away from putting their big dancing bears out on the move in the running game, which makes their ground attack much more versatile as a result.
Having great coaching and a great offensive line are parts one and two of a great rushing attack. Part three is having talent in the backfield, and the Cajuns have three guys that can tote the rock in juniors Trey Ragas (5-11, 227) and Elijah Mitchell (5-11, 221), and senior speedster Raymond Calais (5-9, 180).
Ragas led the way with over 1,100 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry with 8 rushing touchdowns. He’s the bell cow type of runner that gives the Cajuns a tone-setter in the backfield. Ragas put up nearly identical production in 2017, proving to be one of the tougher backs to bring down in the conference.
Mitchell made the most of his increased opportunity in 2018 by rushing for nearly 1,000 yards (985) at 6.7 yards per carry, hitting pay dirt 13 times. What makes him special is that he brings a bit more balance to the position, having the ability to be a downfield threat in the passing game as well. Mitchell also has above average burst to break the long run.
And speaking of breaking the long run, that’s Calais’ specialty. The Breaux Bridge, Louisiana native also doubles as the Cajuns kickoff returner, where he finished with 908 yards, averaging 25.9 yards per return. On the ground, he’s the Cajuns version of the ‘knockout blow’ as he does a great job of making defenders miss in the hole, before darting out for a big gain. Calais finished 2018 with 754 yards and seven rushing touchdowns, averaging an impressive 9.3 yards per carry.
As the Ragin’ Cajuns passing game continues to evolve and develop, they’ll have more than enough up front and in the backfield to be able to lean on a potent ground attack to get them through a tough schedule, both in and out of conference.
Louisiana gets a great test to open the season when they’ll meet up with Mississippi State in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Aug. 31.