UL-Lafayette sets sights on Sun Belt play after loss at Boise State _lowres

Associated Press photo by Kyle Green -- UL-Lafayette cornerback Sean Thomas, left, tries to corral Boise State wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes on Saturday in Boise, Idaho. Hudsepth said the Cajuns defense played better than it has in recent games.

BOISE, Idaho — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team has taken its lumps during a brutal nonconference schedule. But as the calendar turns to Sun Belt Conference play, the Ragin’ Cajuns believe the tough competition has sharpened their mettle.

“Playing good competition has prepared us for conference play,” Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “But we’ve got to get some of our best players on both sides of the ball back.”

Top receiver Jamal Robinson has missed the past two games, while leading tackler Trae Johnson sat out the Boise State game after suffering an injury during Friday’s walkthrough. Both players have an extra week to rest as the Cajuns head into an open week before opening conference play Oct. 4 at home against Georgia State.

UL-Lafayette (1-3) has lost three consecutive games by a combined 138-44 since steamrolling Football Championship Subdivision member Southern in the season opener. After the most recent setback, a 34-9 loss late Saturday night at Boise State, senior quarterback Terrance Broadway lamented missed opportunities but pointed out the positives of playing top-tier programs like Ole Miss and Boise State on the road.

“We’ve just got to execute and make plays on offense — that’s what it boils down to,” Broadway said. “But these last two weeks, to play in two great environments and two places that are very hard to win on the road, it’s been a great chemistry-building experience for our team.”

The loss follows a 56-15 blowout at Ole Miss on Sept. 13 and a 48-20 home defeat to Louisiana Tech on Sept. 6. Hudspeth, though, praised his defense, which played well in spots Saturday but ultimately couldn’t overcome the Broncos’ wealth of offensive weapons and the Cajuns’ own lack of scoring punch.

“Our defense played much better,” Hudspeth said. “Without our leading tackler, I though we rallied and played hard. But we got zero help from the offense. We’re got to make plays, and we’ve got to find ways to get the ball to our playmakers.”

Broadway, the Sun Belt’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year, has struggled without Robinson in the lineup. Broadway completed 20 of 38 attempts for just 160 yards in Boise, settling mostly for check-downs and short screen passes as the pocket collapsed around him and receivers struggled to create separation downfield.

“The open date comes at a good time,” Hudspeth said. “It gives us a chance to regroup, revamp and get it going for conference play. Offensively, we’ve got to fix it. We’re not scoring points right now, and we’re an offense that averaged 35, 36 points per game last year.”

Boise State had two impressive scoring drives to take an early 14-0 lead, but as the game wore on, the Cajuns defense stepped up. Ultimately, it was too little and too late to seriously challenge the Broncos, but safety Trevence Patt said the defense’s second-half performance was a confidence-booster.

“We settled down, and everyone started doing their jobs,” said Patt, who made a team-high 14 tackles. “It’s big for us to get some confidence going into our conference games.”

As tough as September was for the Cajuns, October brings a brand new season of sorts: a chance for UL-Lafayette to live up to its billing as the Sun Belt Conference preseason favorite.

“We still have eight more opportunities,” Broadway said. “We’re excited to go out and try to win each game, one week at a time.”