LAFAYETTE — There was no music.
There was no talking.
There was no energy.
There was only brooding self-reflection, a reel of lowlights from a miserable three hours playing inside their heads on a loop.
There was no joy to be had in the Louisiana-Lafayette locker room in the immediate aftermath of the 48-20 defeat at the hands of Louisiana Tech last September — only despair.
“Everybody just looked depressed,” Cajuns running back Elijah McGuire said. “We lost the game, but we’ve got next week to play, you know what I’m saying? We had a lot of football left to play in the season, so it wasn’t nothing we had to hang our heads on. But it was a bad feeling in the locker room. … It was like all our dogs had died or something.”
The dogs still remained, but that didn’t mean they received any attention after the game. Not from players like Jamal Robinson, who suffered the ultimate indignity when he had to watch his team fall apart as he sat on the sideline, injured.
“I was upset. I was really mad — furious,” he said. “I felt like we didn’t play how we were supposed to play. I just never saw us play like that as a unit. That was the most terrible game we ever played. I was hurting, I didn’t want to talk to my mom, my dad, my girlfriend — I was telling my dog to get away from me. … I didn’t want to talk to nobody.”
Offensive lineman Mykhael Quave described it as if a “big black cloud” had followed the team up the tunnel and into its personal space. The team knew it had a chance to end a losing skid that dates to when most of the players were toddlers, and the team knew it blew that chance.
“With the losing history that we had in the past, what the fans have been through in the past, we really take pride in playing our best at home and giving the fans something to take pride in,” Quave said. “That feeling in the locker room was disgust.”
That feeling was brought about, in part, by their own hubris.
The Cajuns took the field that night as heavy favorites. McGuire even remembers the figure: 14 points. That, combined with everybody — myself included — saying the Cajuns were destined for greatness set up a great fall.
The Cajuns took the field that night believing they were the better team. “Judging a book by its cover” is what McGuire called it, and it didn’t apply only to Louisiana Tech. The Cajuns were very impressed with their own book’s cover.
“It’s not that we thought they were going to come in and lay down, but we were feeling ourselves a bit too much at that point last year,” Quave said. “We felt like we could come in, win the game, get our subs in and that’d be it. We soon realized that that wasn’t the case.”
That loss and ensuing despair crippled the Cajuns in the next couple of weeks. A 1-0 opening quickly turned into an ugly-looking 1-1 start with trips to Ole Miss and Boise State on the horizon. Quickly, 1-1 turned into 1-2, then 1-3.
“It was a hangover after that game, because it meant a lot to them,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “It took us a little while to rebound.”
Once the Cajuns found their stride, they looked a lot like the team many picked them to be before the year. They went 8-1 down the stretch, finishing with their fourth consecutive 9-4 season and fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl title.
Fast-forward to this season, and the circumstances are much different heading into the Louisiana Tech game. Akron has already served the Cajuns their humble pie in a hard-to-swallow 35-14 loss.
The Cajuns are traveling to Ruston as underdogs this time around. Louisiana Tech is a better team than its 2-2 record suggests. The Cajuns aren’t judging the book by its cover.
They’re also determined not to let history keep repeating itself. There was no hangover to be found after the Akron loss. The music was bumping at practice. The focus was there, and so was the energy.
Painful history can serve a purpose. Rather than suppressing that awful experience, the Cajuns have used it as a tool. They know the tremendous challenge they’ll be facing, much better than they did at this time last year, and those memories have replaced that excessive confidence with something else: motivation.
Retribution can be its own music. It’ll be up to the Cajuns to determine whether that song is played.