Overall, the Ragin' Cajuns rank 60th in the country in total defense; allowing 384 yards per game to their opponents. The 28.5 points per game Louisiana Lafayette allows to its opponents ranks 76th in the nation, but that number is skewed a bit by two poor performances.
Along the defensive line, defensive end Bernard Smith is the standout. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior has been tough to keep out of the backfield for opponents this season with 12 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, and 5.5 sacks.
Smith's athleticism and quickness from his former days as a linebacker have translated well to defensive end, and he'll be someone that will have to be picked up on passing downs or else he'll likely be all over Nick Foles from the get-go.
Inside of Smith is defensive tackle Tyrell Gaddies, who has been a major force in the middle of the Ragin' Cajuns' defense in 2011. Gaddies, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound senior, has recorded seven tackles for loss to go along with a pair of sacks, and has picked up 29 tackles for the season. A former defensive end that has since shifted inside, Gaddies has the quickness and strength to get off blocks and make plays anywhere along the line and at times may require more than blocker in order to be contained.
Double teaming Gaddies may prove difficult with the type of season Derreck Dean has had in his senior campaign. At 5-foot-11, 283 pounds, Dean is smaller in stature but big in production, ranking ninth on the team with 38 stops; 5.5 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Throw in 1.5 sacks, and Gaddies and Dean form one of the best interior linemen duos the Arizona offensive line has faced all season.
And off the edge, Smith isn't the only one providing pressure, as 6-foot-2, 242-pound defensive end Christopher Tucker is having a nice season of his own. While he only has 25 tackles, his 3.5 sacks rank second on the team, and he's enough of a threat to get to the quarterback that he prevents the rest of the defensive line from receiving extra attention.
The success of the defensive line has really opened up things nicely for the Ragin' Cajuns' linebackers, who are all having productive seasons. The three are a big reason why the defense for Louisiana Lafayette checks in at number 58 nationally in run defense, allowing its opponents 146.6 yards per contest on the ground.
The team's leading tackler is 6-foot-2, 204-pound senior Lance Kelley, who has flawlessly made the transition from safety, as evidenced by his 99 tackles. That number is good for second in the Sun Belt Conference, but it's his versatility that makes Kelley such an effective player. It's no surprise that as a former defensive back, Kelley has excelled in pass coverage this season with six passes broken up, nine defended, and three interceptions. On top of that, he's added three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Kelley has proven he has the ability to do just about everything from his weak side linebacker position, and he'll definitely need to be someone UA keeps an eye out for all game long.
However, if Arizona focuses solely on Kelley, then strong side linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan is liable to have a big game himself. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound senior is second on the team with 71 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. He's had his own success in pass coverage, with six passes broken up, seven defended, and an interception.
Middle linebacker Le'Marcus Gibson has fewer duties in pass coverage, but he's been a solid presence in the middle of the Louisiana-Lafayette defense. The 6-foot, 205-pound senior is eighth on the team with 44 tackles, and he'll be asked to clean up the plays the defensive line, Kelley, and Lewis-Buchanan don't finish.
The secondary for the Ragin' Cajuns has been the team's weakness, as it allows 237.4 yards per game to its opponents, which ranks the unit 75th nationally.
The safeties have been the strength of the secondary, as free safety Lionel Stokes ranks third on the team with 63 tackles. The 5-foot-10, 184-pound senior has also picked off a pair of passes to go along with seven passes defended and five broken up.
Junior Jemarlous Moten is the only non-senior starter for the Ragin' Cajuns, but the defense is much better with him out there. A 5-foot-11, 175-pound defensive back with the versatility to play both safety and corner, Moten is fourth on the team with 60 tackles, and also has an interception as well.
At the cornerback positions, Louisiana Lafayette has a pair of sure tacklers in seniors Melvin White and Dwight Bentley. White is a big, physical corner at 6-foot-3, 191-pounds, and he's done a little bit of everything for the defense this year.
The senior has record 54 tackles, 6.5 of those coming for a loss, a half a sack, two interceptions, seven passes defended and five passes broken up. He'll use his size to effectively go one-on-one with Arizona's Juron Criner, and that matchup will be one to watch all game long.
Bentley, a 5-foot-11, 179-pound senior who was a 2009 Honorable Mention All Sun Belt selection, comes into the game fifth on the team with 57 tackles, three of those coming for a loss. He also is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, and he's add four pass break ups and seven passes defended as well.
The Ragin' Cajuns are a tough, senior-laden group on defense, and they'll pose a very tough challenge for the Arizona offense on Saturday.
Keys to the game:
1. Keep Foles upright: In his final game as an Arizona Wildcat, Nick Foles will undoubtedly be looking to go out in the best way possible. That may prove difficult if he's constantly on the run or on his back, so the UA offensive line needs to do a good job of containing a defense that ranks in the top 25 in the nation in sacks.
2. Distribute the ball: With the type of season Melvin White is having along with his physical stature, it's going to be very hard for Juron Criner to take over Saturday's game. Luckily, Foles has numerous other targets at his disposal, and should look to keep them all involved from the start of Saturday's game.
3. Decision-making: Louisiana Lafayette has a very opportunistic defense, and if Foles isn't careful with the football, the Ragin' Cajuns will make him pay. There's likely to be a lot of pressure from the front seven of the defense, but Foles is really going to have to make sound decisions on every snap and protect the football.
4. Cut down the mental errors: Physical mistakes like missed blocks and tackles are surely going to happen, but UA has really killed itself with botched assignments and penalties throughout the season. The mental errors were drastically reduced in the ASU game, and by further reducing penalties, UA will more effectively execute its game plan and give itself the best chance it has at winning the game.
5. Pride: This game is not going to be the cake walk many envisioned it being when the schedule was released, as Louisiana Lafayette has had a strong season and is headed for postseason play after its game with Arizona. If the Wildcats don't treat this game like a bowl game of their own and come out with some fire and passion like they did against ASU, then they're likely to get beat by a team that is certainly looking to make a name for itself and secure a win against a Pac-12 foe.