The Miami Redhawks are used to going into games as underdogs, but seeing Louisiana-Lafayette favored by 14 points in Monday’s LendingTree Bowl caught them by surprise.
“We don’t have a bulletin board, but I talk about it,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “I don’t mind being the underdog, but 14 points?”
Miami (8-5), the Mid-American Conference champion, and the 10-3 Ragin’ Cajuns are scheduled to meet in the final bowl game of the 2019 season. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at 40,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
Louisiana, known as Southwest Louisiana until 1999 and previously famous mostly for the shooting prowess of basketball star Dwight “Bo” Lamar in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has won the Sun Belt Conference West Division championship and lost to Appalachian State in the conference championship game twice in Billy Napier’s two seasons as coach. Their 2019 record includes a 45-25 win at Ohio.
»LOOKING BACK: RedHawks win MAC Championship
The Ragin’ Cajuns rank second in the Sun Belt with an average of 38.8 points per game and first with averages of 501.2 yards of total offense and 265.3 rushing yards per game. They also lead the conference with an average of 19.9 points allowed per game and rank second with an average of 373.4 yards allowed per game.
“They’re big everywhere except at quarterback,” Martin said. “They have two 215-pound backs who can run. Their defense is long and athletic. They’re like Cincinnati in terms of size and strength and speed. They have big-play capability.
“They’re a running team,” he added. “They run the ball. They’re a huge (run-pass option) team. They use tons of formations and tons of motion. They use a lot of moving parts. They like to window dress their stuff.”
Louisiana is led by 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior quarterback Levi Lewis, who has thrown for 2,804 yards and 24 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Lewis reminds Martin of 6-foot, 199-pound Everett Golson. Martin coached Golson as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before taking the Miami job.
“He can move in the pocket and make plays,” Martin said of Lewis. “Trying to tackle him is like playing tag as a little kid. He’s got the ability to extend plays.”
Lewis’ escapability is one reason Louisiana leads the Sun Belt in fewest sacks allowed with 14.
Elijah Mitchell, a 5-11, 217-pound running back, leads the Ragin’ Cajuns with a 1,092 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, including three scores and 143 yards against the Bobcats. Ja’Marcus Bradley, a 6-1, 195-pound fifth-year senior wide receiver, leads Louisiana with 53 receptions, 818 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He caught five passes, one for a touchdown, against Ohio.
The Ragin’ Cajun defense includes 6-2, 215-pound fifth-year senior linebacker Ferrod Gardner, a Trotwood-Madison High School product who started his college career at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College before transferring to Louisiana. Linebacker Jacques Boudreaux, a 6-1, 229-pound senior, leads the Ragin’ Cajuns with 102 tackles, including 44 solo stops. Linebacker Joe Dillon, a 6-3, 218-pound fourth-year junior, is Louisiana’s sack leader with seven.
Rhys Byrns, a sophomore from Melbourne, Australia, ranks second in the Sun Belt with an average of 44.1 yards per punt.
Miami is 2-0 against Louisiana, winning 29-28 in 1991 and 27-14 in 1993 when the school still was Southwest Louisiana. The RedHawks have won seven of their last nine games this season on their way to the 12th bowl game appearance in program history and first since losing, 17-16, to Mississippi State in the 2016 St. Petersburg (Fla.) Bowl. Miami is 7-4 in bowl games.
This is Miami’s third appearance in this bowl game. The RedHawks beat Louisville, 49-28, in what then was the GMAC Bowl in 2003 and Middle Tennessee State, 35-21, when the game was known as the GoDaddy.com Bowl in 2010.
At kickoff, Miami will have been off for 29 days since coming from behind to beat Central Michigan, 26-21, in the MAC Championship Game on Dec. at Detroit’s Ford Field. Martin believes the RedHawks will be ready, physically and mentally.
“We should be as healthy as we’ve been since Iowa,” the sixth-year coach said, referring to the seasonopener. “They’re excited to play another game. They’ve got the mindset that, ‘It’s the same deal. We’re underdogs again.’”
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