Grayson Weir: Freshman quarterback Levi Lewis got his first start against South Alabama last weekend and looked impressive. What did you see from his play? How do his dual-threat capabilities affect the offensive game plan?
Louis Prejean: The first part of his game I noticed was how elusive he was when running the ball. Also, his “escapability” while being able to complete passes was a good sign. His start did catch South Alabama off guard, and Ole Miss will have a week to prepare for Lewis. The Cajuns did cater their play calling toward a more run-heavy offense and conservative pass plays. I expect Louisiana to repeat the same formula against Ole Miss, where the running game sets up Lewis.
GW: Trey Ragas, also a freshman, dominates the total carries category and could break 1,000 yards on the season. Ole Miss has struggled, to say the least, against opposing running backs this fall. Do you expect a large emphasis to be placed on establishing Ragas and the run game?
LP: Ragas is a bowling ball. Even though I’m not a fan of bowling, this is a compliment for Ragas. He’s averaging 5.9 yards per carry with 649 total rushing yards. He had a number of runs against South Alabama, where it seemed extra players from the bench had to come in to tackle him. Head coach Mark Hudspeth tried the whole “we have to put up points because the other team puts up a bunch of points” game plan against Arkansas State. That did not turn out well. So, I believe the Cajuns will try to establish their own tone and run Ragas a lot.
GW: On the flipside, ULL has struggled defensively, and Ole Miss’ offense has been explosive. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu is the first player in Ole Miss history to throw for more than 700 yards in his first two games, and the run game has been a nice complement to the air attack. What does defensive coordinator Mike Lucas plan to throw at the Rebels on Saturday?
LP: Mike Lucas and the defense will have their hands full with Jordan Ta’amu. The Louisiana defensive line has upped its pressure against opponents in the last four games. This pressure on quarterbacks has made the defensive backs’ jobs easier. After the Cajuns’ defense allowed 41 points per game in the first four games, it has held its last four opponents to 21 points per game. There has been a turnaround for Louisiana. It will be hard to blitz Ta’amu, because you do not want to give up big plays, but I am expecting the Cajuns to keep applying the pressure from their talented defensive line.
GW: The Nasty Wideouts are quick, agile and physically dominant. Can the ULL secondary rise up to the challenge?
LP: The Cajuns’ secondary goes as Tracy Walker goes. Hudspeth has continuously noted the impact Walker has, not only on the secondary but on the entire defense. Walker must play well in order for the Cajuns to contain the Ole Miss wide receivers. I do not think you can stop the wideouts, but limiting their yards after catch should be the focus of the Louisiana defense.
GW: For the Ragin’ Cajuns to leave Oxford one step closer to bowl eligibility, what needs to happen? Prediction?
LP: Alright, so I just looked this up, and it is not pretty: Louisiana is 1-64 all-time against the current members of the SEC, with the only win in 1996 against Texas A&M, when the Cajuns won 29-22. Under Hudspeth, the Cajuns are 0-1 against Ole Miss. Louisiana does not have history on its side, but it did keep its game earlier this season against Texas A&M close in the first half before Jordan Davis got injured. I think this team is more confident about competing against SEC teams. In order for it to win this game, it needs to keep it competitive by controlling time of possession and put freshman Levi Lewis in positions to not turn the ball over. I think Ole Miss does win this game, however. Rebels win 38-14.
Louis Prejean: As you mentioned, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu and the Ole Miss offense have been explosive. Do you think we will see yet another level of progression from Ta’amu in this game?
GW: This weekend is a great opportunity to keep the offense rolling across the board against a team that has allowed at least 45 points in five of eight games. The Ragin’ Cajun secondary cannot matchup with the physicality of the Nasty Wideouts, and the Ole Miss offensive line should govern the course of the game in the trenches. With ample time in the pocket and receivers getting open on every play, Ta’amu is poised to have a field day. His ability to find his targets in progression and extend plays with his feet keeps his inexperience under wraps, and he will continue to flourish Saturday.
LP: While Ole Miss has been scoring points, it has been allowing its opponents to score 37.1 points per game. Ole Miss scores 32.1 points per game. Do you think Louisiana’s offense with Levi Lewis can match the offensive production from Ole Miss?
GW: An SEC program should dominate defensively against a team like Louisiana. However, as far as we have seen, that is not going to be the case with the Rebels on Saturday. Ole Miss has struggled against opposing rushers all season, to say the least, and facing both a dual-threat quarterback in Lewis and a potential 1,000-yard back in Ragas could pose a problem. That being said, the Landshark Defense has shown flashes of brilliance and should keep Louisiana from scoring more often than not.
LP: Interim head coach Matt Luke earned a hard-fought fourth win of the season against Kentucky. Do you see him taking more control of this team and establishing himself? Can a win against Louisiana spark Ole Miss to finish the season over .500?
GW: He has complete control of the team. Matt Luke is a player’s coach, and his impassioned halftime speech and win last weekend have his guys behind him even more so than they already were. A win this weekend would keep the momentum rolling into a lackluster Texas A&M team and a rivalry bout against Mississippi State. While all three of these games will not be walks in the park, with enough willpower and execution, they could be season-defining wins that make a case for Luke to keep his job. It all starts Saturday.
LP: How do you see this game playing out? Who wins?
GW: Ole Miss’ offense comes out firing on all cylinders and jumps out to an early lead that carries through all four quarters. After a languid first-half performance that keeps the Cajuns in the game, the defense wakes up and keeps Louisiana out of the end zone en route to Matt Luke’s fifth win.