LAFAYETTE — Mark Hudspeth is concerned about his football team’s season-opening opponent, but the University of Louisiana at Lafayette coach sounded just as concerned about his own team Monday afternoon.
“The question is, ‘Have our starters had enough live reps,’” Hudspeth said as the Cajuns continued preparations for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game against Southern. “It’s always a little bit of a concern when your starters have not had lots of full-contact tackling in scrimmage situations.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns will take their most experienced team in Hudspeth’s four-year stint into the opener at Cajun Field. For that reason, UL-Lafayette hasn’t put its No. 1 offensive and defensive units through full-contact sessions since the opening week of fall camp, even though those units normally work against each other in practice.
“Obvously we’ve done tons of tackling drills until they’re blue in the face,” Hudspeth said of earlier work and spring drills. “They did get to go full speed in the first scrimmage, but it’s been now going on two and a half weeks without tackling. We want to make sure we can tackle, that we can run to the ball, which I know we can because we have good team speed.”
The Cajuns’ second and third units had more than their share of full-speed work in camp, but with the team’s depth situation at its best since Hudspeth’s arrival and the limited injuries in fall drills, Hudspeth said he’s hoping not to put that depth to the test quite yet.
“I think I’ve done a better job of trying to make sure we take care of our players,” he said. “We didn’t put them in a situation where it wasn’t smart, not put them out there with the threes and the fours that really don’t know how to practice the game yet.”
Hudspeth added that his first team’s limited scrimmage action had nothing to do with his team’s FCS opening opponent, and referred to the Jaguars as “SWAC champions” repeatedly during Monday’s press luncheon.
“They won nine of their last 11, so you know they’re used to winning,” he said of the Jaguars’ 9-4 record last season. “They come in with a young quarterback, and we’re a little leery of what they’re going to do with him, and that’s a little bit of the unknown. Any time you have a new quarterback, you fit your offense to fit what he can do.
“Always the first game of the year, it’s the uncertainty: Are they changing something on the offenses or defenses and kept it a secret and surprise you with it in Game 1, changes in the kicking game that they didn’t show last year. We’ll have to be ready for that.”
Saturday’s home team won’t have that “unknown” advantage. The Cajuns’ anticipated starting 24 against the Jaguars (the No. 1 offense and defense, kicker and punter) includes 15 seniors, the majority of whom have been around for three 9-4 seasons and R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl wins.
There’s only one true freshman on the week’s two-deep chart: inside linebacker T. J. Posey as a backup to Kevin Fouquier, who is one of two sophomore starters. Hudspeth said Monday that the only true freshmen other than Posey with a decent chance to see action this season are Catholic-New Iberia wide receiver Gabe Fuselier, defensive lineman Taboris Lee and New Orleans-Holy Cross defensive back Travis Crawford.
“That’s the three that could play early on special teams and work their way into playing time,” he said. “Not guaranteed, but those three are far enough along where they would be able to help us.”
Home and home
The Cajuns will open their season with back-to-back home games for the first time since 2009. Only once since then has UL-Lafayette had six home games as on this year’s slate, which continues with a Sept. 6 home appearance against another state school in Louisiana Tech.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Hudspeth, whose team played three of its first four games on the road last year and didn’t play its third home game until November. “It seemed like it was forever before we played a home game in front of our fans last year. Now to open up with two games at home, to me that’s what it’s all about.”
Single-game tickets for Saturday’s opener went on sale Monday through the UL-Lafayette ticket office, in person and online at $30 for reserved seats and $25 for general admission while they last. Cajun Field, with its new end-zone expansion, has an official capacity of 36,900, but that does not include the north end hillside and standing-room locations.
The Cajuns and Southern drew a Cajun Field record 41,357 for their first-ever meeting in the 2009 season opener.
“If they set a record back in 2009, if we don’t blow that out of the water I’ll be shocked,” Hudspeth said.
Single-game tickets for the Louisiana Tech game go on sale next Monday online and at 10 a.m. Tuesday after Labor Day at the ticket office.