UL-Lafayette football team shoulders the burden of injuries _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Cheeleaders make way for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team to enter Cajun Field on Saturday before their game agianst Northestern State University.

LAFAYETTE — Normally, University of Louisiana at Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth doesn’t like open Saturdays this early in a football season.

But through training camp and through the first two weeks of the season, things haven’t been normal for the Ragin’ Cajuns on the injury front. That’s why the two weeks to prepare for the Sept. 26 home contest against Akron will come in handy.

“I would hate to have to play a game Saturday,” Hudspeth said at his weekly press luncheon Monday. “We’d have a lot of guys that would be able to play, but they would not be 100 percent. So this break does come at a good time. We’re seven weeks deep into the season when you count fall camp, so it came at a good time.”

Even in Saturday’s 44-17 win over FCS member Northwestern State, the Cajuns had several players leave the game with minor injuries. Hudspeth, however, said that only junior backup free safety Christian Goodlett would likely miss the Akron game in two weeks.

Goodlett went out with a shoulder injury, with that part of the body starting to become a concern for the entire squad. Quarterback Jalen Nixon, who figured to divide time with fellow junior Brooks Haack on Saturday, did not dress because of a shoulder injury suffered in the opening 40-33 loss at Kentucky. End/linebacker Darzil Washington and wide receiver Al Riles, both starters, missed the Northwestern State game with shoulder injuries, and starting cornerback Troy McCollum left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury.

“I don’t know if it’s the flavor of the year or what,” Hudspeth said. “Last year, I don’t know if we had a shoulder. Now we probably have six shoulders. I talked to (head strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt) to see if there’s anything in our training we need to address, and he assured me we weren’t doing anything different that we hadn’t done in years past.

“Sometimes it’s luck of the draw. A couple of them were from being fallen on at an odd angle, but it’s definitely a concern. Luckily, none of them have ended a season for anybody yet.”

By the numbers

Running back Elijah McGuire, who tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s win, is fourth nationally and leads the Sun Belt Conference with 34 points and a 17.0 per-game average. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and two others are tied for first at 18.0 points per game.

McGuire is also 15th nationally and atop the Sun Belt in rushing (124.0 yards average) and is 24th nationally and second in the league in all-purpose yardage (155.0). Running mate Torrey Pierce is third in the league in touchdowns rushing (three) and second in the conference and 20th nationally in yards per carry (7.36).

Despite not getting a lost-yardage stop against Northwestern State, linebacker Dominique Tovell still ranks seventh nationally in tackles for losses (2.5 per game).

As a team, UL-Lafayette ranks eighth nationally in rushing (303.5 yards) and 22nd in total offense (513.0), which also leads the Sun Belt. The Cajuns are 13th nationally in sacks (3.5 per game) and 20th in tackles for losses (8.5 per game), after getting four sacks and nine stops for losses against Northwestern State.

But that defense got burned by the Demons on some big plays, two of which set up a touchdown and a field goal.

“We’ve been way more aggressive defensively, but you have to pick and choose your times to do that,” Hudspeth said. “Sometimes you have to know who you got. We check a lot, and if we change the coverage and what we’re doing and it doesn’t get echoed, that’s a communication breakdown. And when that happens, most times it’s not good.”

Delaying the Zips

None of the UL-Lafayette coaches or players have worked on scouting reports or had a good look at Akron on film yet, but that’s been more a matter of facilities and technology than timing.

Hudspeth’s staff spent most of Monday relocating offices from the Cox Communications Center to the just-opened Athletic Performance Center, and that included the equipment and technology needed for the video scouting.

“I haven’t seen one snap,” Hudspeth said. “We’re moving all the video equipment, so we can’t watch any of them until (Tuesday) morning.”

Ironically, one of the last parts of the 100,000-square-foot facility still incomplete is Hudspeth’s office.

“I’m going to be in the staff room,” he said. “I’m going to be bugging all the other coaches. I may move in with a different coach every day until my office is finished. My office is the last one, go figure.”

Connections

Hudspeth does have familiarity with Akron’s program. Both he and current Zips coach Terry Bowden were head coaches at North Alabama, and current Akron offensive coordinator A. J. Milwee was North Alabama’s starting quarterback in Hudspeth’s final three years there. The two helped North Alabama go 33-5 in those three seasons, and Milwee set school records for passing yards (8,436), touchdown passes (73) and total yards (9,401).

Akron (0-2) is off to a rough start with a 41-3 loss at Oklahoma and a 24-7 home loss to Pittsburgh. The Zips, who are heavy favorites this week in hosting Savannah State, are last nationally in scoring (5.0 points per game), total offense (168.0), pass completion percentage (27.1) and third-down conversion (20.0 percent).

“I know their coaches really well, and I know what they’re all about,” Hudspeth said. “They have a great staff, and I know they’re going to come in prepared.”