Defensive personnel may look much different this week when UL-Lafayette’s football team heads west to take on Texas A&M.
Nobody will know much about those changes, however, until Saturday’s 11:01 a.m. kickoff at A&M’s Kyle Field.
The Ragin’ Cajun defense was pummeled by a rushing attack for the second straight week three days ago, allowing 424 yards rushing and 667 total yards in a 66-42 loss at Tulsa, and coach Mark Hudspeth underscored those numbers Monday.
“We’re searching for answers,” Hudspeth said at his weekly news conference. “We’ve gone back to revamp some things this week with what we’re doing and guys we’re doing it with. We’re evaluating everything, because obviously we didn’t play well enough defensively to give us an opportunity to win.”
The Cajuns (1-1) found themselves in a shootout for a second straight week after surviving 51-48 over Southeastern Louisiana in their home opener, but Hudspeth said Tulsa’s offensive prowess was too much for an already ailing unit.
“When it was 38-35 we were still in the track meet,” he said, “but then we slipped on a possession and got behind two possessions, and then just couldn’t make it up from that point on. We made progress offensively … defensively not so much.”
Only one FBS team (Florida Atlantic) has given up more rushing yards than the Cajuns’ 767-yard total through two games.
Last year’s UL-Lafayette team also opened the season abysmally on defense but improved enough to finish in the top one-third nationally in rushing, scoring and total defense.
“I hope we can have some parallels,” Hudspeth said of last year’s improvement. “That means we’ll get much better quickly. We’ve done it before, we’ll need to do it again. Playing Tulsa was a tall order for our defense after the way we played Week 1, to come back and play a team that’s used to scoring 40, 50 a game. We didn’t handle that situation very well.”
Hudspeth said the Cajuns aren’t doing anything different scheme-wise from last year’s success and pointed at youth in key roles.
“If it’s the scheme, that means last year’s scheme was a fluke, because we’re running the exact same calls, the exact same defense, the exact same pressures as last year,” he said.
Personnel changes won’t be announced until Saturday, he said.
“We are going to move a couple of people around and try to make everything fit a little better. We’re trying mainly to get our best 11 on the field.”
Hudspeth said he will likely call Nicholls head coach Tim Rebowe, who served as UL-Lafayette’s safeties coach from 2011-14 in Hudspeth’s first four years, to get his reactions on the Aggies.
Rebowe’s Colonels were tied with the 1-1 Aggies 14-14 with eight minutes left Saturday in College Station, Texas, before A&M scored midway through the fourth quarter and got a clinching field goal with 18 seconds left.
“I’ll call just to see what they can tell us, anything they might can add,” Hudspeth said. “You always want to do that. Two of our graduate assistant that were here are now on staff with Coach Rebowe as full-time coaches, so we may reach out and see if there’s any things they may have picked up that might help us. They did a really good job.”
UL-Lafayette is the nation’s only team with a kickoff returner and a punt returner ranked in the national top 10.
Junior transfer Ryheem Malone of Houston is third with a 26.0 average on three return attempts. The last of those came against set up a Cajuns touchdown agains Tulsa.
Sophomore Raymond Calais of Breaux Bridge-Cecilia, who led the country in Week 1 after returning two kickoffs for touchdowns against SLU in the opener, is seventh with a 43.0 average on seven returns. He is one of four players nationally with two scores on kick returns and ranks second nationally in combined kick returns.
“We’re springing some nice returns,” Hudspeth said. “Ryheem had a big return Saturday, and that’s giving us some great field position which we didn’t have last year.”
Kickoff times were announced Monday for the Sun Belt Conference’s Sept. 23 schedule. The Cajuns open league play that day against state rival Louisiana-Monroe at Cajun Field, with the game set for a 4 p.m. kickoff and airing online over ESPN3.
Conference play opens this weekend when preseason favorite Appalachian State visits Texas State and No. 2 pick Troy travels to New Mexico State.