RUSTON — In the wake of their second consecutive blowout loss — and the second consecutive blowout loss at the hands of Louisiana Tech — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth stood in front of his players and accepted the blame.
The energy and effort was there from the Ragin’ Cajuns players, Hudspeth said. But the coaches weren’t able to put them in position to succeed, yielding a 43-14 loss to the Bulldogs.
“I said this one’s on the head coach and the coaching staff. I thought our kids played awfully hard,” Hudspeth said. “I was really proud of their effort. Did we make a lot of mistakes? Sure. … But the kids played hard, and we as coaches have got to find some answers. That’s football.”
The coaching mistakes can be boiled down to one decision.
At their 28-yard line with 10 seconds remaining in the first half, the Cajuns (1-3) decided to get aggressive and try to throw the ball downfield, even though the odds of scoring were remarkably slim.
On the final play of the half, quarterback Jalen Nixon was hit as he lobbed a ball deep down the sideline. It was intercepted by Jennings native Bryson Abraham at midfield, and Abraham raced down the sideline for a back-breaking score.
“We were probably getting a little greedy,” Hudspeth said. “Frustrated we only had seven points. … Bad decision. That’s when you let your frustrations get the most of you. You can’t do that.”
What would’ve been a two-possession game was all of a sudden a 22-point lead for the Bulldogs, who rode the momentum all the way through the second half.
And it started off so well for the Cajuns, too. A week after only getting Elijah McGuire the ball once in the first quarter, the Cajuns got him involved immediately, and it paid big dividends.
After gaining 17 yards on the first two plays of the game, the Cajuns called McGuire’s number again on a swing pass in the flat. McGuire got a nice block downfield and had no problem doing the rest, sprinting 49 yards for a score to give the Cajuns a 7-0 lead just 1:54 into the game.
But things quickly went downhill after that great start.
Louisiana Tech (3-2) ended the first half on a 29-0 run, and the Bulldogs used just about every facet of the game to get there.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel’s arm netted the Bulldogs their first touchdown, responding to McGuire’s big burst with an 8-yard score to a diving Trent Taylor.
Driskel’s legs took care of business next as he pulled the ball on a read option and juked a couple of Cajuns defenders on his way to a 19-yard score to cap a 10-play, 96-yard drive.
“Driskel found some ways to beat us throwing the ball, and he ran the ball very effectively,” Hudspeth said.
Then the Bulldogs special teams got in the mix. Paul Turner, a starting wide receiver, burned the Cajuns around the edge and blocked a Steven Coutts punt, sending it bouncing through the end zone for a safety. And kicker Jonathan Barnes drilled field goals of 50 and 41 yards to push.
Even then, despite all that, the Cajuns were only trailing by two scores. The game was still within reach, until they took it into their own hands to throw it out of reach on the interception as time expired at the end of the half.
“The main thing wasn’t the points, it was that you lose … momentum going into halftime,” Hudspeth said.
That just about killed any shot the Cajuns had of making it competitive. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter before the Bulldogs put the cherry on top with a 7-yard fourth quarter score by Kenneth Dixon.
The Cajuns are 1-3 for the second straight year. They are hoping history repeats itself: The Cajuns rallied to a 9-4 record after last year’s inauspicious start.
“We’ve been in this spot before,” Hudspeth said. “We were in this exact same spot last year, and we reeled off nine wins. This team can still do even better than last year. We found answers before; we’ll find answers again.”