The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns defense had a strong year in 2020. First year Defensive Coordinator Patrick Toney, did well taking over for Ron Roberts, who left for Baylor. Under Toney’s guidance, the Louisiana defense ranked ranked fourth in the Sun Belt Conference. The defense only allowed 3 more points per game and 9 more yards rushing per game than they did in 2019. They improved on passing defense, allowing 27 fewer yards per game. With 10 starters returning, the Cajuns are in great position for a successful 2021.
Redshirt junior Bralen Trahan returns to lead the defensive backfield. The safety from Lafayette was named to the second team All-Sun Belt team and third team All-American by Pro Football Focus. Trahan led defensive backs with 48 tackles and 4 interceptions. Joining Trahan at the other safety position is Percy Butler (44 tackles, 2 interceptions), and A.J. Washington, Eric Garror and Mekhi Garner at cornerback. Look for Kam Pedescleaux (38 tackles), Amir McDaniel, and Kansas State transfer Tyrone Lewis Jr. to push for playing time.
Inside linebackers Lorenzo McCaskill and Ferrod Gardner are the heart of the defense. McCaskill was third team All-Sun Belt, racking up 83 tackles and 2 sacks in 2020. Gardner was second on the team with 74 tackles and first in sacks, with 4.5. The Cajuns return starting outside linebackers Chauncy Manac (31 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Andre Riley (43 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Kris Moncrief and Jourdan Quibodeaux provide quality depth. At the Star position, starter Ja’len Johnson (34 tackles) returns, as does Patrick Mensah. True freshman Ja’marian Peterson could see action this season as well.
The line is led by Junior Zi’Yon Hill, a second team All-Sun Belt selection in 2020. Hill finished third on the team in tackles with 49, including and 4 sacks. Joining him up front are Tayland Humphrey (32 tackles, 2 sacks) and Andre Jones (43 tackles, 3,5 sacks). Backups Andre Riley, Kendall Wilkerson, Dalvin Hutchinson, Mason Narcisse and junior college transfer Nijel McGriff should see plenty of action in 2021.
Cajuns punter Rhys Byrns was named second team All-Sun Belt, averaging 43.5 yards per punt. Eric Garror lead the team in punt returns with 156 yards and a touchdown. Chris Smith was an All-American kick returner in 2020, totaling 617 yards and two touchdowns.
With success comes change. Louisiana lost coaches Rob Sale (NY Giants), Lamar Morgan (Vanderbilt), Austin Armstrong (Southern Miss) and the beloved D.J. Looney. Their replacements include Jeff Norrid, Galen Scott, Jeff Burris, Wes Neighbors, and Darnell Stapleton. Billy Napier’s success in 2021 rests on how quickly the new staff meshes with each other and their team. Their biggest challenge is continuing the success of the last two years. The Cajuns face tough road games against Texas, Liberty, Georgia Southern, South Alabama, Arkansas State, and Troy. They host rival Appalachian State at Cajun Field.
Louisiana has the experience and talent to repeat as Western Division Champs. The path will not be easy, but nothing short of the Sun Belt Championship is acceptable for this team.