LAFAYETTE — A lot of unsung players made a big impact for Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team Thursday night, and because of that the Ragin’ Cajuns are right where many expected them to be at the midpoint of the season.
The Cajuns (3-3, 2-1) are in the race for Sun Belt Conference honors and postseason participation after rolling past Texas State 24-7 on Thursday night.
Still, coach Mark Hudspeth isn't totally satisfied.
“As far as expectations, we didn’t meet them," Hudspeth said. "We really felt like at this time we could be 5-1. Looking back, if we played defensively early in the year the way we played the last two weeks, yeah, you could say we could be 5-1 right now.”
UL-Lafayette held a second straight team to one touchdown and it wasn’t just the more recognizable names on defense that were part of a six-sack, 12-tackle-for-loss performance.
Walk-on linebacker Chaiziere Malbrue had two sacks, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Listed No. 3 tackle Bennie Higgins had three stops and two tackles for negative yardage along with forcing another Texas State fumble. Will linebacker Jacques Boudreaux, a third-team player starting the season now thrust into the starting lineup, had three solo stops.
“The depth on defense and a lot of other guys playing, that was good to see a lot of guys get involved,” Hudspeth said. “We played a lot of guys last night … we played more last night than we played in the first five games. That may have been a little of the reason we struggled early, when we weren’t playing many guys.
“We kept some guys fresh last night and rolled them in."
The Cajun defense didn’t give up a point until a late third-quarter Bobcats touchdown cut the margin to 14-7, and after that Texas State (1-6, 0-3) never seriously threatened. UL-Lafayette’s offense responded to that with a field goal and a touchdown on back-to-back series, the score coming on first-time-starter quarterback Andre Nunez’ 8-yard fade to Keenan Barnes with 10:03 left.
Malbrue’s sack, strip and fumble recovery off TSU quarterback Willie Jones just after Texas State’s touchdown set up Stevie Artigue’s 27-yard field goal.
“He’s played a little bit in the past, sparingly, but he’s a junior now and getting a little older,” Hudspeth said of Malbrue. “He’s got a little more maturity than some other guys, and he’s an over-achiever. He’s not a scholarship player, and that to me says even more about what he’s gone through. I was really proud of him to have that type of game.”
It was one of the defensive leaders that provide the game’s biggest defensive plays, though. That came in the final minute of the first half, after UL-Lafayette’s offense had bogged down after scoring twice in the game’s first eight minutes. Texas State drove the length of the field late in the half to the Cajun 3, and after a sack pushed the Bobcats back to the 7, safety Tracy Walker stepped in front of a scrambling pass from Jones and intercepted it at the goal line to keep it at 14-0 at halftime.
“(Jones) was staring the receiver down,” Walker said, “and we forced him to make a bad throw. I was able to step in and capitalize on it. That definitely gave us some motivation and confidence. We felt energized and enthusiastic as we came into halftime and to come out and finish it up.”
The Cajuns offense scored twice in only 3:30 of possession time in the first period, with Nunez hitting Barnes twice for 63 yards and Trey Ragas getting the last 17 yards on two rushes, including an 11-yard scoring ramble for the first score. After Higgins forced a fumble that Slash linebacker Damar’ren Mitchell recovered at the Bobcats 40, the Cajuns scored in six pays with Ragas getting his second touchdown from two yards out.
Ragas had a game-high 72 rush yards with the two scores, and has rushed for more than 60 yards and at least one score in each of the Cajuns’ first six games. He has also been in part responsible for UL-Lafayette ranking as one of only six teams nationally to score on every trip to the red zone this year (28-of-28).
But that offense hit a wall after the early scores, with five punts and one turnover on downs on six straight possessions before Artigue’s field goal.
“We stopped ourselves, dropped passes, bad throws, misreads,” said Nunez, who was 17-of-27 for 232 yards and has thrown for 519 yards in the ast two games. “I gotta make some better reads and find out where the weaknesses in the defense are. A few situations I left the pocket early, so I have to work on being more consistent.”