Troy is trying to get bowl eligible. Louisiana is trying to clinch a berth in the Sun Belt championship game.
There is plenty on the line when the Trojans (5-5, 3-3) visit the Ragin’ Cajuns (8-2, 5-1) for a 4:05 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.
“They are averaging 38 points per game, third in the conference, along with leading in total offense and scoring defense,” Troy head coach Chip Lindsey said. “When you flip the film on you see this is one of the better teams in our league. It is going to be a lot of fun with two good football teams playing. We’re ready for the challenge.”
The Trojans come into the game with their first two-game winning streak of the season. They earned a complete 63-27 victory at Texas State last week. Louisiana will be a much bigger challenge — literally.
“Their offensive line is special for this level,” Troy defensive coordinator Brandon Hall said of the Cajuns. “They’re really, really big and really physical. Their offensive coordinator is an offensive line guy.
“They have three really good backs, and they’re going to find a way to run the football. … From just a physical standpoint, they’ll be one of the most impressive teams that you’ve seen.”
Elijah Mitchell leads Louisiana on the ground, averaging 87.4 yards per game. Teammates Trey Ragas and Raymond Calais are very productive. The Cajuns rank sixth in the nation in rushing offense (278 ypg) and are 11th in the country in total offense (488 ypg).
Quarterback Levi Lewis doesn’t have the passing numbers that Troy counterpart Kaleb Barker has, but both teams are among the best in the country in total offense, scoring and third-down percentage (both teams at 50 percent).
“They’ve done a great job of recruiting, a great job of developing players,” Hall said. “They have a lot of guys back from last year, so there’s a lot of continuity … and their head coach is really experienced and does a really good job of calling plays.”
That head coach, former Alabama assistant Billy Napier, is in his second season with the Ragin’ Cajuns. He took last year’s Cajuns to the league’s inaugural title game. They are a win away from returning.
The Trojans defeated Louisiana last season 26-16 in Troy.
“We have a ton of respect for that program and this group of players,” Napier said earlier this week. “I think that this passing attack and this group of skill players is one of the best we’ve faced — and that to go along with the quarterback and a veteran offensive line.
“You don’t just score like they’ve been scoring if you don’t have good players at all positions, which I think they do. I don’t know that we’ve faced anybody quite like this since we’ve been here.”
Napier said it’s obvious the Trojans have developed an identity the second half of the season.
“Certainly they’re starting to have more and more of a feel for what they’re doing, which I think coach Lindsey has done a terrific job with,” the coach said.
Troy linebacker KJ Robertson said the defense has to win the line of scrimmage. He said stopping the run “is huge.”
“They have two backs that will run you over and always fall forward, then they have this guy that comes out of nowhere who can make you miss and just outrun you,” Robertson said. “It’s going to be a really tough challenge.
“When one comes out another comes in and nothing changes for them. We have to be really prepared. It’s going to be a huge game for the front seven. If we can stop their run game then I think it will be a good night for us. That’s the number one goal.”
Napier said the Ragin’ Cajuns know they can clinch the Sun Belt West title.
“I think we’re all aware of that, we’ve been saying it for a couple of weeks now that we control our own destiny,” Napier said. “We need to go out here and play our best football game.”
For Lindsey, it is the start of a two-game close to the regular season against the two division leaders in the Sun Belt — Louisiana in the West and Appalachian State in the East. App State plays in Troy on Nov. 29.
“They both are good football teams with good players and coaches,” Lindsey said. “It gives us a chance to throw it out there. We have a great football team and we have guys who are growing up and getting better.
“Our guys are excited for the opportunity. Both teams have had good years, so we’re excited for the chance to play both.”