Back Louisiana on Historic Run

Louisiana on Historic Run

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Louisiana's big three running backs have combined for 2,602 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns this fall.

A year ago, Louisiana emerged as one of the nation's best rushing teams, using a top 25 ground game to advance all of the way to the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game. This season, the Ragin' Cajuns rank sixth nationally in rushing, boasting one of the great running back trios in recent college football history in Elijah Mitchell, Raymond Calais and Trey Ragas. They, set to face Appalachian State in Boone in the conference title bout once again, are ready for even more. Long ago, they hit the ground running.

Each one of Louisiana's big three can lay claim to being one of the best backs in the game.

Recently topping the 1,000-yard mark, Mitchell is one of just eight players in the country with at least 14 rushing touchdowns at 5.9 yards per carry. He, emerging as the quintessential redzone producer, has 27 scores on the ground the last two years, 31 touchdowns in 31 career games. Just a junior, Mitchell is likely to become just the sixth Sun Belt player ever to reach 40 rushing scores. To date, he has five 100-yard games, including 102 yards in the Ragin' Cajuns' recent rivalry week win over Louisiana-Monroe. 

Also topping the 100-yard mark against the Warhawks, Calais has proven to be a rare big play producer. Over the past two years, he has 1,572 yards on just 185 carries, an average of approximately 8.5 yards per attempt. Calais, Oklahoma's Kennedy Brooks and Clemson's Travis Etienne are only running backs in the country with at least 1,500 yards and eight yards per attempt the last two seasons; Calais' average is the highest of the group. He, for good measure, ranks in the national top five in kick return average at over 30 yards per try. 

Ragas, with 2,771 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns through his junior season, is poised to move into the Sun Belt's top 25 in career rushing yards as soon as this Saturday, company he already keeps in terms of rushing scores. Currently, Ragas has eleven career 100-yard performances. This year, he is one of just three players in college football with a minimum of 100 carries, at least seven yards per attempt and double digit rushing touchdowns, joining Etienne and Kentucky's Lynn Bowden, Jr.  

Louisiana's big three have combined for 2,602 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns this fall; for point of reference, that is more total rushing yards than Georgia and more team rushing scores than Auburn. With two more games remaining, the Ragin' Cajuns are now fifth all-time in the Sun Belt with 3,290 season rushing yards and third with 40 rushing scores, both figures standing as new program marks. With Mitchell already there, there is at least an outside chance that Louisiana produces three different 1,000-yard rushers.    

Calais and Ragas rank seventh and eighth in yards per carry nationally, while Mitchell is tied for 15th in the country in rushing touchdowns. As college football continues to reinvent itself in statistical scope and scale, there is a evolutionary exclusivity to all that the Ragin' Cajuns have accomplished. Here, multiple running backs, similar in what they do but different in how they do it, help form an offensive identity that has Louisiana competing, soon to be in the spotlight once more, at the highest level.

A year ago, Louisiana marched all of the way to the inaugural Sun Belt Conference Championship Game behind one of the nation's best running attacks. This season, the Ragin' Cajuns are averaging over 55 more rushing yards per game and over one full yard per carry more. Louisiana has run for at least 225 yards and a touchdown in ten of its last eleven outings, at least 250 yards in three consecutive contests. 

A heralded ground game has become historic.

There isn't an offense in the country quite like Louisiana's. The Ragin' Cajuns' fourth-leading rusher, freshman Chris Smith, even has 334 yards and four touchdowns and averages over ten yards per carry. With Mitchell, Calais and Ragas, standout quarterback Levi Lewis, a true number one perimeter option in Ja'Marcus Bradley and an elite offensive line led by veteran Kevin Dotson, Louisiana has a unique, unrelenting brand. Only improving, the Ragin' Cajuns do what they do and do it well. 

Head coach Billy Napier, formerly an offensive assistant at Alabama and Clemson, among other stops, and coordinator Rob Sale continue to be committed to a specific style; success has obviously followed. Physical and fundamentally-sound, Louisiana has both clear expectations and an established plan of how to realize them. Now two years into the Sun Belt Championship Game, the Ragin' Cajuns have represented the western division two times. This is a program heading to Boone with confidence and conviction.

Literally and figuratively, Louisiana's run is one worth appreciating. Chasing a championship, the journey continues.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports