The Sun Belt gets a taste of the spotlight with a midweek game between the Arkansas State Red Wolves and Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. The fun gets underway at 7:30 EST on Thursday, October 17 at Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Early betting odds list Louisiana as 5.5-point road favorites with an over/under of 66 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were at home last Wednesday but fell short against Appalachian State. The loss snapped Louisiana’s four-game winning streak, dropping them to 4-2 on the season with their only other loss coming against Mississippi State. The good news is that the Ragin’ Cajuns still control their own destiny in the Sun Belt West division, which they won last year. They just don’t have much margin for error moving forward. A second straight loss would be a big blow to their conference title hopes. On top of that, Louisiana will play three of their next four games on the road, although they beat both Ohio and Georgia Southern in their previous road games this season.
As for Arkansas State, they are also coming off a loss in their last game, falling 52-38 to Georgia State before getting last week off. The loss dropped the Red Wolves to 3-3 on the season, although their other two losses came against SMU and Georgia, both ranked teams. The Red Wolves have played their last two games with Alabama transfer Layne Hatcher at quarterback after losing starter Logan Bonner to a season-ending injury. However, with Hatcher leading them to a win over Troy at the end of September, Arkansas State is 1-1 in conference play and also in control of their own destiny in the Sun Belt West division.
In a way, this is an elimination game in the West division. The winner could be looked at as the favorite to reach the conference title game, although Louisiana-Monroe might have something to say about it. Meanwhile, the loser will need to get some help if they’re going to end up on top of the Sun Belt West division.
The home team has won the last five games in this series, so I’m going to stick with that trend. In fact, the last time the Ragin’ Cajuns visited Jonesboro, they left as 47-3 losers. I’m not expecting a repeat of that game. But with so much on the line, I’m envisioning a close, competitive game. That makes me want to lean toward the underdog, especially a home underdog. I’ll take my chances with the Red Wolves and the points.
My concern with Louisiana is a lackluster passing attack. Quarterback Levi Lewis has had a fine season, but he’s not going to push the ball down the field. He’s thrown for under 200 yards in every game season and wasn’t able to step up his game when the Ragin’ Cajuns needed more out of him last week against Appalachian State. Without much explosiveness in the passing game, it’s more difficult for Louisiana to pull away and cover a spread.
In fairness, the Ragin’ Cajuns have a top-notch rushing attack. Trey Ragas is averaging over nine yards per carry and backups Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais are nearly as dangerous on the ground. That trio will be particularly dangerous against an Arkansas State defense that was shredded on the ground against Georgia State in their last game, allowing 340 yards on the ground. But the Red Wolves have been able to stop the run at times this season. Being at home should also help them keep the Louisiana rushing attack contained. If they can force Lewis to beat them with his arm, the Red Wolves should be in good shape.
On the other side of the ball, Hatcher has proven in his first two starts that he can sling it. After all, there are reasons why he began his career at Alabama. He still lacks experience and so his decision-making is lacking at times, evidenced by the four interceptions he’s thrown in his two starts. But he’s also thrown for over 700 yards with eight touchdown passes in those two games. He’s not afraid to air it out, so I expect him to challenge the Louisiana defense.
In the end, I like Arkansas State because their offensive ceiling is higher than that of the Louisiana offense. As mentioned, the Ragin’ Cajuns have some limitations in the passing game, which makes them a little easier to defend. At home, I think the Red Wolves can get a beat on the Louisiana offense and force them out of their comfort zone. If Arkansas State can get out to a lead, it’ll be tough for the Ragin’ Cajuns to comeback. That makes me a little more comfortable leaning toward the home underdogs in this game.