LAFAYETTE — Every football team in the country has been trying to capture what Louisiana-Lafayette has managed to do lately.
They don’t specifically have the Cajuns in mind, but the goal is still the same: Approach each game with intense focus as a one-game season. No looking ahead, not when each game is the most important game of the season.
“If you want to be a champion, every week is a championship week,” coach Mark Hudspeth said.
Cliché? Yes. But the Cajuns have found a way to turn cliché into reality, with coaches getting their players to buy in to the one-game-at-a-time mentality.
How they’ve done it is simple — no looking forward, no long-term goals, no matter how tempting it is to think about it.
The Cajuns keep that forbidden fruit outside arm’s reach.
“We don’t talk about other games,” Hudspeth said. “We don’t talk about the big picture. We don’t talk about going to a bowl. We never even have mentioned to our team that we are bowl eligible.”
The only time they’ve done anything with thought toward the future, Hudspeth said, was when they held Alonzo Harris out of the game against a New Mexico State team that was giving up more than 320 yards per game on the ground. Harris responded the next week against ULM his best rushing game in more than two years.
It can be exhausting mentally, treating each week as the most important week of the season. But rather than stressing how important each game is, the staff has simply treated every game with the mentality that it is their last game of the year.
“We don’t brow beat them, but every week our goal is to win the next game,” Hudspeth said. “Now our goal is to be 7-0 in the conference. We don’t hold anything back offensively or defensively, any tricks, we have everything available to win this next game.
“If we’re fortunate enough to do that, we’ll start back over and do it for the next game.”
For six weeks, the Cajuns have done just that. For the four weeks preceding the last six weeks? Not so much.
The Cajuns fell into a 1-3 hole at the start of the season, largely because of the caliber of competition they were playing. But they weren’t giving themselves much of a shot, either.
Rather than following the old “one-game-at-a-time” mantra, the Cajuns were looking ahead to what lay in store for them in December, maybe even January. It resulted in the Cajuns falling flat on their faces.
They lost by four touchdowns to in-state rival Louisiana Tech, which shattered their expectations for the season and threw them into a sort of a tailspin. They followed the Tech loss with blowout losses to Ole Miss and Boise State.
They had a bye week after the Boise State loss to right the ship and renew their focus, and they haven’t lost since. Consider it a lesson learned for the Cajuns.
“I had never been so ready to go out there and practice — just practice, going to work, let’s do it,” said senior linebacker Boris Anyama. “It’s a one-game season, and you’ve got to make the most out of the opportunity you have. Just go out there and have fun.”
The question gets more and more pressing with each passing week — can the Cajuns keep their focus on the task at hand? Especially now that the talk about the postseason and conference titles has started to work its way back into the conversation?
“We’re not going to allow our kids not to (lose focus), that’s the thing,” Hudspeth said. “We’re going to make sure they maintain that focus. For us, it’s a one-game season. We’re going to put everything into it, just like last week.
“Sell the farm again, re-mortgage the house again to get ourselves prepared and ready to play.