New Orleans Bowl Preview
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajun
After a one-year absence, the Ragin’ Cajuns are back in the New Orleans Bowl (Play Now). Under coach Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana has made four trips to the Superdome for this postseason matchup and won all four games. The Ragin’ Cajuns rank fourth in the Sun Belt in rushing (180.8 ypg). Thanks in part to running back Elijah McGuire (1,028 yards) and quarterback Anthony Jennings (322) carrying the offense.
Southern Miss has been solid against the run, limiting opponents to 149.3 yards per game and ranking fourth in Conference USA in fewest points allowed (30.3) per game. First-year coach Jay Hopson had an up-and-down debut, as the Golden Eagles lost five out of six games after starting 4-1. However, the return of quarterback Nick Mullens from injury sparked Southern Miss to a 39-24 victory over Louisiana Tech in the regular season finale. Running back Ito Smith (1,774 yards) is another standout to watch.
ABOUT SOUTHERN MISS (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA)
The Golden Eagles are led by senior quarterback Nick Mullens, who returned from a two-game absence due to a concussion in the regular-season finale and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) to help clinch the bowl berth. Mullen will go up against a Ragin’ Cajuns pass defense that allowed opposing signal-callers to complete 62 percent of their throws during the regular season but have tightened things up of late. Louisiana surrendered 31 passing yards in its victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
Mullens is playing his final college game after setting a school record with 85 career touchdown passes. He found a new weapon in the finale in Keon Howard. Howard, who started two games at quarterback while Mullens was out, shared the field against Louisiana Tech while serving as a receiving and a wildcat threat in the backfield. Running back Ito Smith rushed for 1,321 yards and 15 TDs while adding 42 receptions to an offense that averages 33.4 points.
ABOUT LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE (6-6, 5-3 Sun Belt)
The Ragin’ Cajuns should feel right at home in the Superdome. They made four straight appearances in the New Orleans Bowl from 2011-14. Louisiana earned the win on the field in all four trips. They’ve beaten San Diego State, East Carolina, Tulane and Nevada, but two of the victories were later vacated. Southern Miss lost to Washington in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year. They also are making their fifth appearance in the New Orleans Bowl after wins in 2004, 2005 and 2008 and a loss in 2009.
Coach Hudspeth will start a senior at quarterback in Anthony Jennings, who remarkably guided his team to a win in the regular-season finale without recording a passing yard (2-of-5 for zero yards). Running back Elijah McGuire rushed for over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. He has recorded 52 career touchdowns (10 receiving). Louisiana turned things around on the defensive end down the stretch en route to bowl eligibility. They’ve totaled three defensive TDs in its final two games.