ATLANTA (AP) — Coach Billy Napier is guarded against No. 19 Louisiana-Lafayette having a letdown Saturday against Georgia State.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (1-0, 0-0 Sun Belt Conference) are fresh off a 34-14 upset win at Iowa State, and Napier is mindful that Georgia State pulled a similar feat last year with a season-opening victory at Tennessee.
Beating Iowa State gave Louisiana-Lafayette its first road victory over a ranked team and its second over a Top 25 team, the first coming in 1996 when the Ragin’ Cajuns beat Texas A&M. Louisiana-Lafayette is ranked for the first time since 1943.
“A lot of hard work and effort went into that, and it’s always good to see people get rewarded for their investment, and I think that’s exactly what this summer — lots of adversity — I think it’s unveiled some character here,” Napier said. “The big challenge now is can we sustain it and stay focused on the things that allowed for that success.”
Georgia State had its first two scheduled games — Sept. 3 at home against Murray State and Sept. 12 at Alabama — canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Panthers had so many stops and starts during summer camp that coach Shawn Elliott began to question his sanity.
“We need a football game like therapy,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to go out and play. It’s been a long training camp almost to the point that it’s impossible to keep the concentration level as high as you need to be successful. But we took some time off and regrouped, and now our focus is really tuned in to this opening game.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns rode two touchdowns on special teams to victory as Chris Smith returned a kickoff 95 yards and Eric Garror ran back a punt 83 yards.
Their defense was stout, holding Iowa State scoreless over the final 31 minutes. Ferrod Gardner finished with nine tackles and a sack. Lorenzo McCaskill had 10 tackles, and Asjlin Washington had an interception. Percy Butler and Jourdan Quibodeaux each forced a fumble.
Louisiana-Lafayette took the lead for good late in the third quarter when quarterback Levi Lewis connected with Peter LeBlanc for a 78-yard touchdown.
“We’re so close, and the culture is so good here, and I think we all know to put this win behind us and keep moving because there’s teams that went out and beat teams like that and the next week came out and lost,” offensive lineman Shane Vallot said. “That’s our goal right now to try not to let that win we had define us. That’s just one game. We’ve got to keep moving forward.”
EARNED THE JOB
Redshirt freshman quarterback Quad Brown had a strong camp to beat out three freshmen vying to become Georgia State’s starter. He takes over for Dan Ellington, now a member of the coaching staff. Brown completed 11 of 28 passes for 130 yards last year.
“He had a great opportunity a year ago to be with our offense,” Elliott said. “He was backing up Dan Ellington, learning the terminology, learning the reads, so that put him a little bit ahead of the rest right from the get-go. He has a really good ability to throw the football and a good ability to run the football, probably better than he ever thought he could.”
Fans will be allowed for the opener at Center Parc Stadium, the new name for the Panthers’ home field. The 15-year, $21 million agreement between Center Parc Credit Union and Georgia State Athletics, was announced last month. Georgia State went 5-1 at home last year.
The Ragin’ Cajuns set a school record last year with 11 victories after winning a bowl game against Miami-Ohio. Georgia State tied the school record with seven victories and earned its second bowl appearance in three seasons under Elliott.
Louisiana-Lafayette ranked first in the Sun Belt in scoring defense in 2019, allowing a league-low 19.7 points per game. The Ragin’ Cajuns also ranked first in pass defense, surrendering 197.7 yards per game.
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