LAFAYETTE – The Louisiana-Lafayette defense needed a spark in its season opener against Kentucky, and senior linebacker Dominique Tovell was ready to provide it.
Tovell racked up two sacks and a nation-leading and school-record-tying 5.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats, all of which came in the second half as the Cajuns surged back from a 33-10 deficit to tie the game.
Coach Mark Hudspeth called Tovell “the best player on the field” after reviewing the game tape. Tovell said he simply did what the coaches asked him to do.
“I just went out there and did my job,” Tovell said. “… I just tried to shoot sparks through the defense and get everybody riled up so we could go out there and try to rally.”
The job Tovell did is a little something new this season. After recording 11.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, that number dipped to nine last season as Tovell was asked to do more in coverage.
This year, coaches want him in attack mode around the line more often, especially since pass-rushing specialist Darzil Washington will miss three-to-six weeks with a shuoulder injury he suffered against Kentucky.
“He’s a guy that we’ve got to put in position to make plays,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got to put him in position to rush the quarterback. He’s very effective when we do that, and he gives us that pass-rushing ability.”
The Cajuns new-look defensive scheme operates on bringing pressure from multiple angles, and after a rough start to the Kentucky game, it appeared to settle in and force some rushed throws from quarterback Patrick Towles.
Tovell said the coaches bring in new concepts every day to implement into their system and make life difficult in the opposing backfield.
“It’s a great feeling when you can look out there and see the quarterback’s kind of confused and he doesn’t know where it’s coming from,” Tovell said. “It gets you some open shots, some big hits, some (tackles for loss), all types of things.”
Often, it was Tovell on the delivering end of those types of momentum-shifting defensive plays. It’s a different role than the one he played a year ago when he was more often in space, but it’s one that he prefers.
“I’d rather be around the action all day,” Tovell said. “Being around the line, there’s something about it. Everybody wants to be around contact and I’m a big collision guy.”
WORTHY OUT FOR SATURDAY’S GAME
Safety T.J. Worthy will not be available for Saturday’s game against Northwestern State because of a shoulder injury, Hudspeth said Thursday.
“T.J. is out,” Hudspeth said. “He’ll be back for Akron, but he will not play this game.”
Worthy is one of four players to injure his shoulder against Kentucky. Hudspeth said his injury was not related to his collision with Kentucky running back Mikel Horton on the Wildcats’ game-winning touchdown, but the injury might’ve been the reason Worthy was unable to make the tackle.
“I think that’s why he got bowled over,” Hudspeth said. “He didn’t really bring it because his shoulder was hurting already, and when you get your shoulder hurting you don’t want to hit nobody.”
Hudspeth said it’s still undetermined who will start in Worthy’s place, though it’ll either be Dominick Jones or Travis Crawford. Christian Goodlett has also been getting some practice reps at safety to provide depth.
WALKER, LIGHTFOOT LIKELY TO START
A week after being held out of the starting lineup against Kentucky, sophomore safety Tracy Walker figures to be back in the starting lineup against Northwestern State.
Walker was a presumed starter heading into the season, but he started the game on the sidelines because he didn’t take care of business off the field, Hudspeth said.
“But he’s doing better,” Hudspeth said. “He’s doing some good things right now, hopefully his best football is in front of him.”
Walker made a key interception in the fourth quarter that set up the Cajuns’ game-tying touchdown drive against Kentucky.
Linebacker Tre’maine Lightfoot, another presumed starter held out of the starting lineup against Kentucky, will start against Northwestern State, Hudspeth said.
SIMEON THOMAS UPDATE
Hudspeth still doesn’t have a concrete answer for when cornerback Simeon Thomas will return, as he remains out indefinitely because of an academic eligibility issue, but now it sounds as if his absence may extend longer than originally anticipated.
“I don’t see him (coming back) at least before (missing) six games,” Hudspeth said.
Hudspeth also said Thursday that Thomas’ ineligibility last year, which has been reported to be because of more academic eligibility issues, was also because of a violation of team rules.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
With zero solo tackles and four assisted tackles against Kentucky, it didn’t appear as if junior linebacker Otha Peters made much of an impact in his Cajuns debut. But Hudspeth said the game tape showed a different story.
“A lot of times it didn’t come his way, but we thought he played exceptionally well,” Hudspeth said. “We don’t think he started slow at all, he probably graded out the highest of any of the linebackers.”
MORE TIME TO HEAL
At Tuesday’s press luncheon, Hudspeth said he hoped to have freshman wide receiver Michael Jacquet back from an injury that has sidelined him for the last several weeks, but it appears Jacquet will need a little more time to get ready.
Hudspeth said Jacquet likely won’t be ready to practice until the team’s non-conference finale against Akron. Though the team was originally counting on Jacquet to contribute right away, it looks as if he could be ticketed for a redshirt year.