UL-Lafayette’s football team has already had four days off from competition since Thursday’s devastating 47-3 loss at Arkansas State, and the Ragin’ Cajuns still have a long way to go.
Thanks to the mid-week game and an open date this Saturday, the Cajuns will go 16 days without game action before finally facing South Alabama on Nov. 4 in a game pivotal to their late-season hopes.
“It’s just very uncommon,” UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said of the extended break Monday at his weekly press gathering. “This season and this schedule is very uncommon. Five home games, an open date with 16 days off, traveling back from Idaho and playing a Thursday game: These kids have been given a pretty tall order. But that’s their marching orders, and they get that, and they’re ready for the challenge.”
The challenge for the Cajuns (3-4, 2-2) is to right a ship that was listing badly on Thursday, when Arkansas State handed its visitors their second-worst loss ever in a Sun Belt Conference game and their worst loss since Hudspeth took over before the 2011 season.
The goal of that challenge is to win three of the remaining five for postseason bowl eligibility, but Hudspeth said a more immediate goal is to get back to the break-even mark.
“If we get back to 4-4, and we know we have a tough challenge to do that, and I know they (South Alabama) are thinking the same thing obviously,” he said, “but if we can get back to .500 there, we still have four games left and we can still finish with an outstanding record and season.
“But this is a one-game season for us. We’ve got to put everything we can into this game. We have to utilize this extra time that we have and go over there and hopefully play better than we did this past week.”
The Jaguars (3-4, 2-1) have won two straight Sun Belt games, knocking off high-flying Troy 18-9 one week after the Trojans went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU and beating UL-Monroe 33-23 on Saturday. USA had not won two straight league games since November of 2015.
The Jaguars, tied for third in the league behind unbeatens Appalachian State and Arkansas State, play a mid-week game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Georgia State.
The quarterback battle for the final five games of the season will be a two-player race.
Hudspeth said Monday that Levi Lewis, a highly touted true freshman from Scotlandville Magnet, would not have his redshirt lifted and would not see playing time this season.
“We’re not going to do that for these last five games,” said Hudspeth, who had floated the idea following disappointing outings Thursday by both starter Andre Nunez and Jordan Davis. “It’s more than just Levi. I told our team, we have to play better as a team and not just at the quarterback position. It’s not all on the quarterbacks.
“We have two really good ones at quarterback, and it’s important to both of those kids. They have to do a better job of making decisions, and we can’t turn the ball over.”
Hudspeth said of his team’s 10 turnovers this year — three fumbles and seven interceptions — nine of them have come from the quarterback.
“We’ve gotta make sure we do a better job of taking care of the ball at the quarterback position,” he said. “If we can do that, we’ll be a much better team. We would have been in much better shape the other night if we hadn’t turned it over, and definitely not as we’re driving in to score.”
Nunez was 4 of 11 for 51 yards with one interception against A-State, and his fumble on the game’s third play was returned 24 yards for a touchdown by Red Wolves safety Caleb Caston. Nunez and Davis, who was 11 of 24 passing for 128 yards, both left the game with injuries at different points — Nunez with what was later diagnosed as a concussion and Davis with a tweaking of his already-injured knee.
Hudspeth said both Nunez and Davis should be back for the USA game, with Nunez part of a four-player group who went through concussion protocol. That included starting slot receiver Ryheem Malone, starting cornerback Levarious Varnado and backup Buck linebacker Chaiziere Malbrue.
“We would have loved to have those guys for the entire game,” Hudspeth said. “Those are four critical guys. Luckily with the open date ... all four of them we expect to be ready to go.”
Davis, who started the season’s first five games before Nunez got Thursday’s start, suffered a knee injury in the first half Sept. 16 at Texas A&M and has struggled since.
“It’s something he’ll fight for the rest of the year,” Hudspeth said. “I’m hoping he can get pretty close to 100 percent, but he probably won’t be there until the year’s over. We haven’t decided who it will be moving forward between those two.”
The break will also give redshirt freshman running back Trey Ragas some recovery time. The New Orleans-Shaw product had rushed for at least 61 yards and one score in each of UL-Lafayette’s first six games before being held to 17 yards on eight carries at A-State.
“He’s been sort of just body sore,” Hudspeth said. “You can tell he’s been getting worn down a lot. He takes a lot of contact when he runs the ball; he’s a very physical runner, and it’s been taking a toll on him. This open date really came at a good time for him.”