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Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football at Texas Longhorns: Scouting report, prediction

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

AUSTIN, Texas — Billy Napier heads into his fourth season in Louisiana.

UL football and Napier open at Texas on Saturday (3:30 p.m. CT, FOX).

Here is what you need to know about the matchup between the No. 23 Ragin’ Cajuns and No. 19 Longhorns:

Texas quarterbacks

Redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card will make his first career start in Steve Sarkisian’s Texas debut.

But Sarkisian also said junior Casey Thompson, who replaced injured 2020 starter Sam Ehlinger in the second half of Texas’ Alamo Bowl win over Colorado, will also play.

The two quarterbacks are similar in athletic ability and arm talent. Thompson has a little more experience, but the Cajuns are more concerned with preparing for a Sarkisian system than any particular QB.

Can UL stop Bijan Robinson?

Texas has a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Bijan Robinson, who rushed for a team-high 703 yards over nine games last season, winning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.

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Napier knows Robinson from his tenure as Arizona State's offensive coordinator in 2017,  when the Sun Devils recruited Robinson out of Tucson.

Considering the inexperience at quarterback, the Longhorns could rely heavily on Robinson, making it imperative for UL defensive linemen Tayland HumphreyZi’Yon Hill and Andre Jones to fill their gaps to make things easier for inside linebackers Lorenzo McCaskill and Ferrod Gardner.

Humphrey, listed at 6-foot-5 and 349 pounds, frequently commands a double-team.

Running back Bijan Robinson will lead No. 19 Texas against No. 23 UL on Saturday.

UL running backs

With Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell off to the NFL, Chris Smith assumes the No. 1 running back role. Emani Bailey is the backup on the depth chart.

But the Cajuns have a twist. Freshman Montrell Johnson Jr., a De La Salle product from New Orleans, will play, too.

Johnson, No. 3 on the depth chart, has some size (5-11, 210 pounds) and drew rave reviews in preseason practice. With the moves of Mitchell and power of Ragas, it will be interesting to see whether he can make an impact against Texas.

Turnovers critical

Winning the turnover battle is imperative for the Cajuns.

UL finished plus-10 in turnover margin last season, with help from their most interceptions (16) since 2009.

UL’s defense is determined to create even more takeaways by attacking the ball and trying to force more fumbles. Defensive coordinator Patrick Toney also felt the Cajuns had too many dropped interceptions last year, so that’s worth watching.

Handling the stage in Austin

How the Cajuns handle the stage of 100,119-seat Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium may be as important to the game as any on-field matchups or schemes.

When UL upset nationally ranked Iowa State to open last season, the crowd was limited to mostly friends and family because of COVID-19.

The setting will be much more daunting in Austin, so the Cajuns devoted ample practice time to preparing for managing the noise of a venue that can hold most of Lafayette’s city population. Controlling emotion will be critical for the Cajuns.

Prediction

Texas 28, UL 21: The Cajuns will be inspired to show their first preseason ranking is no fluke. But with Robinson running the ball, Sarkisian looking to make a statement in his debut and the Longhorns playing in their cavernous stadium, it's too much to expect UL can make it two straight upset wins over nationally ranked opponents.