The players have arrived in New Orleans. The coaches have their game plan set and each team has practiced hard in preparation. With two days left before the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the stage is set for a battle in the Big Easy between the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns and your East Carolina Pirates.
Each team enters the game on three-game winning streaks, with hopes of a bowl win and a nine-win season. For ULL, a win would tie their record for most wins in a season, set last year after a New Orleans Bowl victory (a 32-30 win against San Diego State). For ECU, a win would end the current streak of three consecutive bowl losses, and secure Head Coach Ruffin McNeill his first bowl victory at the helm of the Pirates. Both teams enter this game on a hot streak, and are motivated to end the 2012 season with a victory.
The Pirates seem to be firing on all cylinders after finishing the season in thrilling fashion. ECU outgunned Marshall in double overtime, 65-59, to remain tied for first with UCF in the Conference USA East Division. In the game against Marshall, ECU quarterback Shane Carden had a career day by passing for a school record 439 yards with three touchdowns, and adding another three touchdowns on the ground.
ECU’s offense seems to really be hitting its stride as the bowl game approaches. Of the team’s final six games, the Pirates have scored over 40 points on four occasions and won five times.
In doing so, Carden has looked comfortable as the team’s signal caller and, for the first time in school history, the offense has a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in the same season (Vintavious Cooper and Justin Hardy respectively). Hardy needs just 78 yards in the bowl game to break Dwayne Harris’s single-season receiving yardage record of 1,124 yards set in 2010.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s offense has taken a similar path to New Orleans as the Pirates offense. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ starting quarterback, Terrence Broadway, took over during the fourth game of the season after previous starter Blaine Gautier injured his hand. Like Carden taking over for Rio Johnson, Broadway cemented his spot as the starter by playing impressive football.
Broadway has thrown for 2,526 yards and 16 touchdowns since being named the starter, while also running for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. Starting tailback Alonzo Harris has rushed for 761 yards and eight touchdowns as well, while both Broadway and Harris hold averages over five yards per carry (6.4 and 5.1 respectively).
The Ragin’ Cajuns leading receiver is Harry Peoples, who has caught 61 passes for 774 yards and five touchdowns. ULL has five receivers with at least three touchdowns, which shows that Broadway has done a good job of distributing the ball to all of the team’s weapons.
Like ECU, Louisiana-Lafayette enters the bowl game having won four of its last five games. ULL’s only loss during that span came at the hands of No.6-ranked Florida in the game’s final seconds. The Gators scored a touchdown with two seconds left to knock off ULL, 27-20, proving that this Ragin’ Cajuns team is not to be taken lightly.
Both offenses are going up against defenses that struggled against the pass all season. ECU’s defense has given up an average of 30.7 points per game while its pass defense ranks 105th in the nation, after allowing an average of 271.6 yards through the air per game. In terms of total defense, the Pirates rank 77th in the nation.
Not to be outdone, ULL ranks 111th in the nation in passing defense, allowing 283.9 yards per game. Louisiana-Lafayette has given up an average of 27.6 points per game while being ranked 86th in the nation in total defense.
With that being said, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl should have no shortage of points. If the Pirates want to come out on top, they need to focus on a few areas. First and foremost, the team has to contain Broadway and his dual-threat ability. If they allow him to take over the game and make some big-time plays, the game could turn into a shootout.
ECU must also exploit the weaknesses of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense. Carden seems to be in a rhythm with Hardy, Justin Jones and the speedy Danny Webster. He will need to find ways to get them the ball in space.
Don’t be surprised if freshman Jabril Soloman comes up with one of his trademark 40-plus yard catches in this game either (He has had four games with a catch over 40 yards, out of eight total games played).
And finally, the Pirate defense needs to limit the big play and find ways to get off the field. With both offenses playing well, this game could be determined by who has the ball last. A key turnover or three-and-out forced by the Pirates defense could be all that it takes for the Pirates to be victorious.
If I had to make a prediction, I would choose the Pirates winning in this one, 38-31, for their first bowl win since 2007.