How the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns executed plan to rough up Liberty quarterback Malik Willis

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns have had issues this season handling mobile, tough-to-tackle quarterbacks.

On Saturday, however, the UL defense figured it out against the best QB it has faced this season.

UL (10-1) sacked Liberty’s Malik Willis seven times in a 42-14 nonconference win over the Flames (7-4) in Lynchburg, Virginia, extending its winning streak to 10 games.

UL coach Billy Napier and the No. 21-ranked Cajuns have a chance to extend that streak when they close the regular season Saturday (3 p.m., ESPNU) against UL Monroe and Appalachian State in the Dec. 4 Sun Belt Conference championship game at Cajun Field.

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Outside linebacker Chauncey Manac had four of the seven sacks, all in the first half. Defensive lineman Andre Jones and inside Jourdan Quibodeaux had one apiece.

“We roughed him up early, to be honest with you, man,” Napier said. “I felt like his head was on a swivel. It’s always part of the plan, but certainly when you’re playing a quarterback like it’s part of the plan.

“You want to rough him up, every opportunity. Any form or fashion that’s affecting the guy. … We pushed the pocket. We did a nice job on the back end with our disguise, changing the picture on the snap.”

Malik Willis' rough night

Willis, a transfer from Auburn widely regarded as a possible first-round NFL draft selection, was limited to 28 rushing yards on 20 carries, well below his 75.5 yards-per-game average.

Two of Manac’s sacks came with just more than a minute left in the first half, after Liberty – down 21-7 – had advanced to the UL 2-yard line on a 10-yard Willis run.

UL outside linebacker Chauncey Manac (17, top) sacked quarterback Malik Willis four times, all in the first half, during the Ragin' Cajuns win Saturday at Liberty.

The Flames faced second-and-goal from the 2, but two holding penalties followed by a Willis incompletion and two Manac sacks forced a punt. 

“Guys had some great performances, on the edge, on the inside,” Napier said. “We had a good plan to rush him, and we covered them pretty good as well.”

Willis finished 14-of-34 for 162 yards and touchdown throws of 29 and 30 yards to Kevin Shaa.

But the Cajuns also intercepted him twice, once each by defensive lineman Mason Narcisse and outside linebacker AJ Riley. They were among six takeaways by UL, four from the Cajun defense and two early ones on special teams.

“It’s deflating. Just deflating,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “It seemed like the game started with (turnovers) and just like it wasn’t important to us tonight.

“Now, give credit to Louisiana and Billy and his guys. They did a good job. We certainly were not our best tonight. Turnovers make it extremely hard to beat a good team.”

Patrick Toney plan worked

The defensive turnovers were driven by a sound game plan from second-season defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, who was promoted from safeties coach after Ron Roberts left UL for Baylor in 2020.

The Cajuns' pressure really seemed to throw off the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, both early on and as Liberty went scoreless over the final 26 minutes.

Liberty wound up with 293 yards of total offense, well off its average of 446.6 yards per game. The Flames had 206 passing yards, nearly 45 yards below their average, and just 87 rushing yards, 108.7 off their average.

“Hats off to Coach Toney and the defensive staff,” Napier said.

“They had a good plan, not only to rush and affect the guy, but (we) stayed in our lanes and were given an opportunity to finish on the quarterback – got him on the ground. We did it a lot of different ways. Coverage sacks. Pressures. But it was very apparent early on that we had him rattled and we were affecting him as the game went.”