LAFAYETTE — Tuesday’s Louisiana-Lafayette football press conference was one day later than normal due to the Labor Day holiday.
Perhaps that explains Ragin’ Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth’s anxiousness to turn the page to Louisiana Tech, this week’s second straight in-state opponent. Hudspeth couldn’t wait to focus on a Bulldog team that’s had its way with the Cajuns for most of two decades.
“They’ve owned this series of late, and our players know that,” Hudspeth said as the 1-0 Cajuns host the Bulldogs at 6 p.m. Saturday in a rare second-straight home game to open the season. “We’ve addressed that this summer. Our players haven’t played them since it’s been quite a while, but we got the point across to them in the spring and summer. They know what’s at stake.”
The Cajuns are coming off a 45-6 blowout of Southern’s Jaguars on Saturday, while Tech was on the wrong end of a 48-16 loss to fourth-ranked Oklahoma in Norman.
“In all fairness, we didn’t play Oklahoma in game one,” Hudspeth said Tuesday. “That’s not a slight of Southern, either. I thought they were one of the classiest teams we’ve played in a long time considering the circumstances they were put in, not being able to get here and stretch and get ready. I went and told them that, and that I appreciate people that play the game the right way.”
However, Hudspeth knows the Bulldogs will provide much more of a challenge, despite Tech having lost 11 of its last 15 games over three seasons. The Ruston squad has won the last six meetings between the teams, the last being a 24-20 Bulldog win in Ruston in 2004.
“Our guys are very familiar with the success they’ve had as a program ... a lot of tradition and great players,” he said. “Coach (Skip) Holtz, his body of work speaks for itself, and he’ll have his team ready to go Saturday.”
Hudspeth is also intimately familiar with the talents of Tech defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, with whom he coached at Mississippi State.
“He’s a high-energy guy that will have that defense chasing the football,” Hudspeth said.
“He dials up a lot of different looks. We’ve been up here about 24 hours a day trying to break that code and we haven’t done it yet. He’s always going to have one more guy in the box than you do.”
That said, his team did run for 248 yards and throw for 264 against a Jaguar team that brought more pressure than anticipated. The Cajuns are one of only six FBS teams nationally that didn’t have a minus-yardage play over the opening weekend.
“We felt like us establishing the run game early and often, that set us up,” said junior tackle Mykhael Quave.
“That opened the playbook up for things we wanted to do. When you run the ball you control time of possession, the more the ball’s in your hands, the less it’s in your opponents’ hands.”
That will be important against a Bulldog team paced by standout running back Kenneth Dixon. The junior ran for 1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns as a freshman but was limited by a knee injury and only had four scores last year despite going for 917 yards. That was a big reason Tech went from 7-5 in 2012 to 4-8 last season.
“He’s phenomenal,” Hudspeth said of Dixon. “If you watch him at Oklahoma he’s competing. He’s an exceptional runner, but more than that he’s such a competitor, whether he’s cutting an end or picking up on a chip block. If you let him, he’ll put that team on his back.”
The Cajuns didn’t allow a running play of more than nine yards against the Jaguars, and sophomore inside linebacker Kevin Fouquier — the signal-caller of the unit despite making his first start Saturday — credited the defense’s experience, particularly at linebacker.
“Last year going into Arkansas (a 35-14 opener loss), we didn’t know how it was going to pan out against live bullets,” Fouquier said. “This year, we’re a seasoned group out there. It really came together ... it starts with me getting the call and getting everybody lined up, but I can’t tell you how much easier it is to have guys like (safeties) Trev Patt and Sean Thomas quarterbacking the secondary.
“The D-line makes it easier, too. They’ve been doing it, (tackle Christian) Ringo and Juice (tackle Justin Hamilton) have been doing it since they were freshmen.”