LAFAYETTE — When Louisiana-Lafayette takes its longest road trip of the season Saturday, and one of its longest ever, to face Idaho in a Sun Belt Conference game, it will be the last meeting between the teams for the foreseeable future.
Not only are the Vandals leaving the Sun Belt Conference, with their four-year football-only membership ending at the end of this season, Idaho has announced plans to drop from the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and will join the FCS Big Sky Conference next season.
“I hate that for them, because I think they’re a really good program,” said CajunS coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team journeys the 2,404 miles from Lafayette to Moscow, Idaho, for Saturday’s 4 p.m. contest at Idaho’s Kibbie Dome. “You always hate to see a program drop down.”
The Vandals struggled over the past few seasons, winning five games in a four-year period from 2011-14. The last of those years was a 1-10 season in 2014 when Idaho began a four-year contract to play football in the Sun Belt. The Vandals went 4-8 the following year, and before that 2016 season the Sun Belt announced it would terminate the four-year agreements with Idaho and New Mexico State after adding regional members Appalachian State and Georgia Southern. The league added its 12th member and 10th football-playing member in Coastal Carolina this year.
After that announcement, Idaho had a major rebirth last year in coach Paul Petrino’s fourth season, going 8-4 in the regular season and 6-2 in Sun Belt play. The Vandals lost nonconference games at Washington and Washington State, but won eight of their last 10 — including a 23-13 win over UL-Lafayette and a 61-50 victory over Colorado State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“I think Paul (Petrino) does an outstanding job there,” Hudspeth said of the younger brother of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. “He’s done a great job. He took them to eight wins and then won a bowl game. They’ve definitely competed. It definitely wasn’t a deal where they couldn’t compete, everybody realizes that, because they still are competing at a high level.”
The Vandals (2-2) snapped a two-game skid with a 29-23 double-overtime win at South Alabama two weeks ago. Idaho, like the Cajuns, had an open date last weekend and will host Appalachian State next week.
UL-Lafayette has only journeyed to Moscow and played in the Kibbie Dome one other time, that coming in 2004 during Idaho’s first membership in the fledgling Sun Belt. The Vandals won 38-23 in that game. The teams had played in the Northwest in 2001 in the first meeting between the schools, that game played at Washington State’s Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington, where Idaho played two of its home games that year. Even though in different states, Moscow and Pullman are only eight miles apart.
“Never been in that dome,” said Hudspeth, whose team plays in the Pacific time zone for the first time since 2004. “It looks like a nice place to play. It looks like they’ve got brand-new turf. I know our kickers are excited about playing indoors in the dome.”
Crawford still out
UL-Lafayette will again be without safety Travis Crawford, who has been out since the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana with what was originally termed a lower-leg bruise.
“We’re hoping to get him back, but right now we haven’t been given any timetable because of the type injury he has," Hudspeth said. "He might pop up next week and be ready to go, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. If he ends up playing, it will be an injury that he’ll have to play through and play with it.”
Corey Turner, who started the opener at the Slash linebacker slot, has been filling the free safety slot in Crawford’s absence.
Along with Crawford and the question marks surrounding quarterback Jordan Davis, Hudspeth said freshman defensive end Zi’Yon Hill of Catholic High-New Iberia will have his second knee surgery this week and will miss the remainder of the season. Hill had offseason surgery to correct issues from an injury suffered in high school. ... WR Ryheem Malone (shoulder), OT Grant Horst (shoulder) and PK Stevie Artigue (leg), should all be back in action against Idaho.