Red Wolves, Cajuns meet today

JONESBORO -- Coming off a 34-24 road win at Louisiana-Monroe a week ago, Arkansas State (4-4, 2-2 Sun Belt Conference) will match up with another team from the Bayou State when it takes on Louisiana-Lafayette (5-3, 2-2) at Centennial Bank Stadium this afternoon.

The Red Wolves' defense will have its hands full trying to contain the Ragin' Cajuns' rushing attack that leads the Sun Belt, averaging 214.5 yards per game. Running back Jacob Kibodi leads the Cajuns with 585 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Zeon Chriss has also been a major contributor in the run game, rushing for 476 and five touchdowns. He is also a more than capable passer, throwing for 1,051 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Chriss will utilize a talented receiving core that includes playmakers in Robert Williams, Jacob Bernard and Peter LeBlanc. Williams and LeBlanc have three receiving touchdowns each this season.

"You have to be able to keep him in the pocket," Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones said of Chriss. "You have to maintain pocket integrity. You can't let him escape. He's been extremely accurate. He's managing their offense and you can tell he's in control."

Aside from Chriss, the Red Wolves will also be tasked with slowing down the one-two punch the Ragin' Cajuns boast at running back with Kibodi and Dre'lyn Washington. Kibodi rushed for 119 yards and a score in last Saturday's 33-20 win over South Alabama.

On the other side of the ball, ASU got a spark of its own from the running game in the win over Louisiana-Monroe last week. Zak Wallace had his best game of the season, rushing for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.

"It was great to see because Zak is one of the hardest workers we have on our football team," Jones said. "His care factor is very high. I thought the whole key for him is he was able to get his shoulders north and south. He wasn't dancing sideline-to-sideline and he did make somebody miss, which was great to see."

The Ragin' Cajuns' defense is led by linebacker K.C. Ossai, who has tallied 50 tackles and forced two fumbles this season. Tyrone Lewis Jr. is a playmaker at safety who has intercepted three passes for a defense that has forced 15 turnovers.

"They're doing a great job with takeaways," ASU quarterback Jaylen Raynor said of the Louisiana-Lafayette defense. "They have a very good front seven and they have good DBs. They're an all-around good defense."

Raynor passed for 298 yards and a touchdown last week, while also adding a rushing touchdown. Corey Rucker has had back-to-back games with more than 100 yards receiving, including his 160-yard performance against the Warhawks.

Raynor has been able to stretch defenses out with the deep ball. He leads the FBS with 17.31 yards per completion and has 28 completions of 20 yards or more this season. While he has thrown three interceptions in the past two games, Jones said he likes the aggressiveness his freshman quarterback plays with.

"He [Raynor] throws probably the most catchable deep ball I've ever seen," Jones said. "He's got really remarkable touch on the deep ball and a good knack for it. We want to be aggressive and we want him to be aggressive. We trust our players. We trust Jaylen."

The programs have played each other 51 times dating back to 1953. The Ragin' Cajuns have won the previous five matchups, including a dramatic 28-27 triumph the last time they played in Jonesboro in 2021.

"We're playing a team that has a lot of confidence," Jones said. They're used to winning and they have an edge to themselves. It's going to be a great challenge for us just to match their physicality and all that goes into that. I have a lot of respect for what they are doing and what they've done."