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It didn’t take long for an upset to occur in the 2020 college football season. It happened on the first semi-full weekend of games with Louisiana surprising No. 23 Iowa State 31-14 on the road for the Sun Belt’s second big victory of the young season.
Not only is it the first underdog win against a top 25 team this year, it also marks one of the biggest wins in Louisiana history as the Ragin’ Cajuns not only beat a ranked opponent but did so by 17 points, a difference of 28.5 points against the closing -11.5 spread that favored Iowa State, per William Hill Sportsbook.
The last time the program notched a win against a top 25 team was 1996 against No. 25 Texas A&M, 29-22. That team, then called the University of Southwestern Louisiana, was led by quarterback Jake Delhomme and Brandon Stokley. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ other win against a Big 12 school came 17-15 against Kansas State in 2009.
The win was technically an upset from a bookmakers perspective, though it was not all that surprising as the Ragin’ Cajuns were a trendy pick to cover the spread. Keep in mind, too, that Louisiana won 11 games a year ago and gave Mississippi State a scare. This year’s team returned a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Levi Lewis and running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas.
On Saturday, though, they didn’t necessarily need massive games from any of those players. Instead, special teams and explosive plays played the biggest roles. Here are three takeaways from Louisiana’s big win.
Special teams were an important part of Saturday’s game. First, the bad: Louisiana. kicker Nate Snyder missed two field goals. Not ideal, but poor kicking and special teams was plagued a lot of teams Saturday. It may just be a lack of practice/continuity that shows up for the first few weeks. However, special teams also came up big for Louisiana not once, but twice, in the form of a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Chris Smith and an 83-yard touchdown on a punt return by Eric Garror.
Again, explosive plays were the key for Louisiana to pull the upset. So it’s not surprising that a 78-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to wideout Peter LeBlanc was the biggest offensive play. On a day when both offenses struggles with drops, timing, sustained drives and turnovers, the few big plays that did succeed were that much more important. Other than that one touchdown pass, no offensive play from either side went for more than 19 yards. This game was an absolute grinder and Louisiana’s big play on offense was a real difference maker.
The Cyclones lost to a good opponent, there’s no denying that. Yes, Louisiana is in the Sun Belt, but a good team is a good team. Still, this is not where Iowa State thought it would be after one week. This was, after all, a team with more trendy dark horse love for a Big 12 Championship Game run.
But after the loss, Iowa State has some questions to answer. The defense overall played well despite what the scoreboard said. The Ragin’ Cajuns only had 272 yards of offense and averaged less than five yards per play. Neither Lewis nor the offense’s excellent running backs were major factors.
The Cyclones offense is another story, though: two turnovers, 4.2 yards per play and lots of negative plays. The pass protection had its work cut out for it and receivers were not taking advantage of all the balls thrown their way. Quarterback Brock Purdy took some unnecessary sacks as well. Overall, this was a disjointed effort without top tight end Charlie Kolar. Iowa State will surely drop out of the top 25 and will have a lot of chemistry/timing things to work on before its next scheduled game at TCU on Sept. 26.
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