Louisiana-Lafayette’s struggling defense has called in some outside help and brought back a familiar face.
James Willis, who served as Ragin’ Cajuns defensive coordinator in the 2013-14 seasons when the squad went 9-4 and won two bowl games, has been brought back by coach Mark Hudspeth as a defensive analyst.
Hudspeth made the announcement at his Monday news conference, saying Willis would advise the current defensive staff and would not do on-field coaching. His hiring does not affect any current assignments defensive staff.
“He’s going to give us extra eyes in preparation, and extra eyes on the field with his experience,” Hudspeth said. “We want his ideas, collaborating with our defensive staff with some of the things we’re trying to do moving forward. It’s already paying off some dividends, I believe.”
Willis left the Cajuns staff in February of 2015 to join the New Orleans Saints staff as a defensive assistant working with linebackers. He was with the Saints for two years before being let go in February when coach Sean Payton fired five defensive and special teams assistants.
Willis, a seven-year NFL player as a linebacker, had coached at Auburn and Alabama when he joinedHudspeth’s staff before the 2013 season. Hudspeth said that Willis is under contract with the Saints through this season.
“He’s waiting for the right opportunity to get back in the game,” Hudspeth said. “We’re excited about this move and excited about James being back with us.”
The Cajuns defense goes into Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference road game at Idaho ranked last among the 129 FBS teams in scoring defense, allowing 53.8 points per game. The Cajuns (1-3, 0-1) are also next-to-last nationally in rushing defense (299.0 yards per game) and 127th in total defense (563.5 yards per game).
Back to work
UL-Lafayette took Friday and Saturday off during the open weekend and returned for a Sunday night practice at Cajun Field, beginning game-week preparation for Saturday’s 4 p.m. game against the Vandals. Idaho (2-2) is also coming off an open date and beat South Alabama 29-23 in double-overtime in its Sun Belt opener one week earlier.
“That’s an outstanding team,” Hudspeth said of Idaho. “They went 8-4 last year, and they’re led by a quarterback that I think if one of the best, if not the best, in the conference.”
Senior Matt Linehan ranks fourth on the Sun Belt’s all-time career completions list and is third in the league in passing efficiency. The son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan rallied Idaho from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter against USA and had a touchdown pass with 13 seconds left that forced overtime.
“Those coaches’ sons bring another dimension to the game,” Hudspeth said. “He knows where to go with the ball, he’s an accurate passer and he’s a winner. He has that intangible that is what you look for in a quarterback.”
Davis to start, if …
Quarterback Jordan Davis, who suffered a leg injury in the first half at Texas A&M two weeks ago and played only three series last week against UL-Monroe, is still not 100 percent healthy, Hudspeth said.
The Cajuns coach said Monday that if Davis is not at full speed by Saturday, it is likely that Andre Nunez would get his first collegiate start.
“If he’s not 100 percent, I don’t know if we’ll start him this week,” Hudspeth said. “Right now he’s not quite there. By the end of the week he may be … we won’t make that call right now. We still have five days before the game.
“A lot of that will do with how he’s moving around and his effectiveness. We saw last week what happens when he can’t move and isn’t able to push and move around in the pocket. That’s one of his strong points, his mobility.”
Nunez entered the UL-Monroe game before halftime and led the Cajuns on a furious second-half comeback that included three touchdowns in the final 7:03 and a tying touchdown pass to Ja’Marcus Bradley on the final play of regulation of a 56-50 double-overtime loss.
“That was his first playing time really ever,” Hudspeth said of Nunez, “and you could tell it took about a quarter and a half (for him) to really get comfortable. Once he did, I thought he did much better, played lights out, had zero turnovers and he created some big explosive plays.”
Hudspeth emphasized, though, that the quarterback spot is still a healthy Davis’ to lose.
“This is not a demotion,” he said. “If he’s 100 percent he will be the starting quarterback for Saturday.”
At the start of his Monday presser, Hudspeth paid homage to Sunday night’s tragic shootings in Las Vegas and the loss of a Lafayette Police Department officer over the weekend. Lafayette Police Department Cpl. Michael Paul Middlebrook, a nine-year veteran of the department, was killed in a Sunday night shooting at a Moss Street convenience store.
“I know everybody’s been following the news this morning,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to everybody in Las Vegas. Our community had some people there, some that were even at the concert.
“We are all disappointed and hurt by our Lafayette Police Department losing one of their own. We just feel terrible. We appreciate everything they do for our community, putting their lives on the line for our citizens.”