By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Despite winning six games in four of the past five seasons, including earning a share of the Sun Belt title in 2005, the UL-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns haven't been to a bowl game since 1970. In 2009, the
Cajuns were once again denied a postseason berth as the team finished 6-6
overall under head coach Rickey Bustle, who has the program on the brink of a
bowl bid entering his ninth year at the helm.
After opening the 2009 season with an expected victory over Southern, the
Cajuns pulled off an unexpected upset of Kansas State with a 17-15 result. It
marked the program?s first win over a BCS conference school since topping
Texas A&M all the way back in 1996. ULL was quickly brought back to reality in
the following weeks however, as the team dropped a pair of decisions to LSU
and Nebraska by a combined score of 86-3.
With their confidence a bit shattered, the Cajuns opened up league play and
showed their resiliency with a pair of narrow wins over North Texas and
Western Kentucky, two of the lesser teams in the Sun Belt. The team then
suffered back-to-back losses to Florida Atlantic and FIU before winning two of
its next three games. A shot at winning campaign was dashed in the finale,
when the Cajuns suffered a 48-31 loss to league champion Troy. The Cajuns
finished a level 4-4 within the conference, winning three of those games by
four points or fewer.
OFFENSE: The Cajuns managed only 22.2 ppg in 2009 and they will need to step
up in that department this time around. The hope for improvement comes from
the return of quarterback Chris Masson, who turned in a solid campaign in his
first year as the starter in 2009. The 6-2, 201-pound Masson threw for 2,406
yards, the fourth-highest total in school history, but had just 10 touchdowns
against eight picks. With a year of starting experience now under his belt,
expectations are at an all-time high for Masson.
Masson will benefit from a dangerous group of wideouts, as well as a talented
tight end in Ladarius Green. A Mackey Award candidate last season, the 6-6,
225-pound Green led the Cajuns with 533 receiving yards despite missing three
games last season. Marlin Miller (5-11, 189) also returns after leading the
club with 37 catches and the speedy wideout will also see some carries in the
The Cajuns are in desperate need of someone to emerge as the top option for
the ground attack. Julian Shankle (5-10, 202) had just 14 carries for 38 yards
last season, but he is in the lead for the starting gig.
The ground game will also be hurt by an offensive line that must replace three
starters, including a pair of First-Team All-Sun Belt selections.
"This is a new Cajuns team. We have some spots to fill and positions are open.
I want to see them compete." said Bustle
DEFENSE: ULL made some strides on defense last season after ranking 100th or
worse in four major defensive categories in 2007 and 2008. The improvement
wasn't all that significant, but it was something, and the unit did lead the
Sun Belt in interceptions with 16. Overall, the defense forced 26 turnovers
last year, ranking in the national top 30.
While turnovers were plentiful, sacks were not, as the Cajuns ranked 106th
nationally in that category. Furthermore, the line struggled to get into the
backfield, ranking ULL 113th in tackles for loss. Despite replacing two
linemen, ULL does have the potential to improve along the front. Terrell
Richardson has the experience with 30 career starts at end, but he needs to be
more productive after notching just 19 tackles last season.
The strength of the defense is the linebacking corps, which welcomes back
starters Grant Fleming and Daylon McCoy. The 6-2, 232-pound Fleming has big
time potential and he showed that last season by making 89 tackles and forcing
three fumbles. The 6-0, 215-pound McCoy meanwhile, has terrific speed and
posted 55 tackles last season despite missing games due to a knee injury.
As for the secondary, it should be equally as strong as last season, as three
starters return. Both corners are welcomed back in Dwight Bentley (5-11, 173)
and Orkeys Auriene, who combined for 103 tackles and five interceptions. Lance
Kelley, a former wide receiver, made four starters at safety in 2009 and
should only be better with more experience.
"There are a lot of players returning on the defensive side and we should be
further along on that side of the ball," Bustle commented.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tyler Albrecht made good on 8-of-11 field goals, including a
game-winning 48-yarder as time expired to upset Kansas State, and he returns
to bolster the kicking game. Punter Spencer Ortego is also welcomed back and
he earned first-team all-league honors after averaging 40.6 yards per attempt
in 2009. He allowed only 21 of his 66 punts to be returned and had 15 downed
inside the 20. Aside from making kicks, the Cajuns have been terrific at
blocking them under Bustle, registering 41 over the last eight seasons.
OUTLOOK: The Cajuns have been on the brink of a postseason berth for the last
several seasons and may be able to take that elusive final step in 2010. The
defense is expected to be much improved, while the offense should be able to
score more with Masson running the show. An inexperienced offensive line could
prove costly and a tough schedule won't help either, but that aside, its time
for ULL to take the next step forward.
"There's no question that we have a good team, but there is a lot of work to
be done to get ready for the fall." Bustle stated.