LAFAYETTE, La. — Five would-be starters including standout running back Elijah Mitchell are among the Ragin’ Cajuns out this week for nationally ranked Louisiana due to COVID-19 issues, it was confirmed Wednesday night, and a sixth may not play because of an injury.
The other Cajun starters not listed on UL’s depth chart for COVID-19 related reasons, either a positive test or quarantine due to contact tracing: right tackle Max Mitchell, nose guard Tayland Humphrey, outside linebacker Joe Dillon and cornerback Asjlin “A.J.” Washington.
Elijah Mitchell, Max Mitchell and Humphrey are new to the list for the Cajuns (2-0) —ranked No. 25 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 19 in the AP Top 25 — who are scheduled to play host to Georgia Southern (1-0) in their ESPN2-televised home opener Saturday morning at Cajun Field.
UL head coach Billy Napier gave no indication that Mitchell or any of the others would be available Saturday.
“You guys have got a depth chart,” he said when it was released after practice Wednesday. “Those are the players that are available for the game, and those are the ones we’ll get ready to play.”
Dillon and Washington also did not play in UL’s 34-31 overtime win at Georgia State, where at least 10 Cajuns were out for coronavirus-related reasons.
Neither did co-backup quarterback Jaiave Magalei and reserve true freshman defensive line Sonny Hazard, who also both remain out.
Also not listed on the depth chart as usual this week and not listed on the injury list either: reserve safety Cameron Solomon and backup kicker Kenneth Almendares. Thomas Leo, a transfer from Florida International, is listed as the backup to kicker Nate Snyder, a graduate transfer from Indiana who is 1 for 4 on field-goal attempts so far this season.
Napier did not disclose how many Cajuns are out this week with COVID-19 issues, like the coach did when he said nine were out last week.
Dillon was a late scratch, making it 10 known then.
The loss of Elijah Mitchell this week, though, is an especially big blow for the Cajuns.
In addition to Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week and Senior Bowl Senior of the Week honors, the NFL prospect won state Offensive Player of the Week honors from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association after he ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in OT, at Georgia State.
A sixth Cajun starter, true freshman wide receiver Dontae Fleming, is listed as “questionable” for Saturday due to an undisclosed “lower body” injury.
Fleming was limited by injury in UL’s Sept. 12 season-opening upset win at then-No. 25 Iowa State, but he had four catches for a team-high 81 receiving yards at Georgia State.
Next man up
With Elijah Mitchell, Max Mitchell and Humphrey out and Fleming questionable, new UL starters on this week’s depth chart for the Cajuns include Trey Ragas “OR” Chris Smith at running back; Spencer Gardner at right tackle; Ja’Quane Nelson at nose guard and walk-on Kaleb Carter “OR” Oklahoma track transfer Golden Eke “OR” true freshman Errol Rogers Jr. at receiver.
With Elijah Mitchell out, Napier said either T.J. Wisham, who plays mostly on special teams, or true freshman Emani Bailey could get some carries in addition to Ragas and Smith.
As was the case at Georgia State, Chauncey Manac is listed to start in Dillon’s Jack linebacker spot, and Mekhi Garner — who had an interception against the Panthers — is listed to start in Washington’s usual cornerback spot.
“Chauncey (Manac) and (Dillon) played 50% of the snaps in the first games, 50/50,” Napier said. “We see Chauncey as a starter, and certainly … he’s one of the players who stepped up last week.”
Manac is a redshirt senior from Clinch County High in Homerville, Georgia, who redshirted at Georgia in 2016 before spending two seasons at Garden City (Kansas) Community College.
Napier liked what he saw not only from him but also from fellow outside linebackers Tyler Guidry and A.J. Riley.
“I know Mekhi (Garner) got a lot of attention because A.J. (Washington) was out,” Napier said, “but … going back and looking at the tape, we were really pleased with the (outside linebackers’) detail, their execution, their production.
“Those opportunities like those young men had last week — that’s what this football season is gonna present, given the dynamic that we’re competing.”
Between injuries and COVID-19 matters, attrition already has been the name of the game for the Cajuns at several position — and the year is not even three games old yet.
Fleming, in fact, comes from a position group that already has four members out due to preseason injuries: Jamal Bell, Cassius Allen, Calif Gossett and Brian Smith Jr.
Napier doesn’t seem concerned about depth there, though.
“We typically play about six receivers in each game,” Napier said, “and I think we have six we feel good about.”
Meanwhile, Kris Humphries – the backup to Mike inside linebacker starter Lorenzo McCaskill – is listed as “out” for Saturday with an undisclosed “upper body”’ injury.
McCaskill’s backups are now listed as La’Kamion Franklin, a walk-on redshirt freshman, or Jasper Williams, a juco transfer coming off a preseason injury.