Cajuns glad to turn focus on Sun Belt play on football schedule _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth talks with defensive back Jeryl Brazil on the sideline during a game against Akron on Sept. 26, 2015, at Cajun Field.

LAFAYETTE — Mark Hudspeth lost his composure Saturday night.

His team had just been manhandled at home by Akron — a solid program, but not one you’d expect a Hudspeth-coached Louisiana-Lafayette team to get physically dominated by. The nature of that loss caused an annoyance that had been bubbling toward the surface over the course of the past week to boil over, and Hudspeth did something he shouldn’t have done.

He pointed the finger out instead of in. This next part is what you’d call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I told our team this a while ago, I told my wife, I told our director of football operations this earlier in the week: I saw this coming a mile away,” Hudspeth said in his opening line of his postgame remarks. “I was hoping that it wouldn’t happen. I saw it coming a mile away. This was too much of a distraction, too much to do in the middle of the season, bad timing on everybody’s part with moving in or planning to move in during the season.”

The move Hudspeth is referencing is the move of his team into its new $30 million Athletic Performance Center. The facility, which houses the football locker rooms and office space in addition to a weight room and athletic training room for all sports, was supposed to be completed Sept. 1, but it ran a few weeks behind schedule.

The Cajuns coaching staff moved in Tuesday, Sept. 15. The players moved into their snazzy new locker room and team area Sunday the 20th, six days before the Akron game.

Quoth the Hud: sensory overload.

“We’re over there in the slums, and we move into some shiny new Disney World,” Hudspeth said. “It’s just — these are kids. I saw this coming a mile away. It was like it’s been too much. Too many things to do over here — game room, fancy locker room, fancy weight room, everybody’s thinking now we’ve got this, we’re going to magically win because we’ve got this great facility.”

Now, some context: The athletic administration wasn’t going to just let that facility sit there unused for its first three months. That would’ve been even more of a crime than using it as an excuse for losing a game. The Cajuns at least owed the seniors, some of whom have been toiling in those “slums” for nearly five years, a chance to live out the end of their college football days in the luxury they helped build.

It wasn’t the facility, but the circumstances of the move into it — in the middle of the season with tours interrupting game preparation — that irked Hudspeth. He thought his team was so unfocused that he had to re-start practice Tuesday, the first day of practice after the move.

“While we’re working all week long, there’s 97 tours going through here,” Hudspeth said. “It’s like the Grand Canyon, when you’ve got tour guides leading people to see everything. We can’t even work. Every time you look up, there’s 19 people walking down our hallway.

“So I’m going to fix that this week. Tours are over. Work is fixin’ to begin. We’re fixin’ to get our edge. I told our team, all the newness, you’ve seen it now, it ain’t new no more. We’re fixin’ to get back to work.”

In the immediacy of a humbling loss where his team was dragged all over the field, Hudspeth was honest. The fact that he didn’t have control over external influence clearly bugged him. But to turn to complaints rather than owning up to the fact that his team just got owned? That’s not the type of character Hudspeth is trying to instill in those under his charge.

Half of me can’t believe I’m writing this, because I’d much rather have someone speak from the heart. In this age of sound bites and coachspeak, straight talk quenches my journalistic thirst.

But when that honesty sounds like an excuse for why your team got pummeled for 60 minutes, I think I’d rather sign up for 20 minutes of, “Hey, hats off to the other team; they executed better than us” on repeat.

I’ve worked with Hudspeth for a little more than a year. It’s enough time for me to feel confident in saying I understand the way he works. It’s not enough time for me to say I know him personally.

That said, I’m willing to bet Hudspeth is wishing he could’ve reined in his emotions a little better Saturday night. What was probably a cathartic feeling in the moment to Hudspeth immediately looked a lot like an excuse to everyone in front of him. There’s really no other way to parse those words.

The Cajuns were outplayed, outschemed, out-everythinged by Akron. The Cajuns may have been dealt a poor hand for their preparation — which, mind you, they had two weeks of, thanks to an open date — but that wasn’t the reason they lost.

That blame lays on Hudspeth’s and his team’s shoulders. Accept it and move on. The team clearly has.

Quarterback Jalen Nixon had the best response to the entire situation. He acknowledged the difficulty presented by the situation, but he didn’t point at that difficulty as the problem.

“I feel like today we lacked a little chemistry. Wideouts, running backs, quarterbacks — we weren’t on the same page a few times, and that kind of hurt us in a lot of situations,” he said. “But it’s football, man. Moving into a new facility, it’s something to be grateful for.

“It’s nothing that we look down upon or let distract us. It’s something that we take and want to embrace it. Actually do better things with it. We see us moving into a big-time facility, and that means we must be doing great things to help us get here. So we just want to keep embracing that and keep moving up.”

That, too, was honesty, but it was composed. Hudspeth lacked that composure Saturday night, and that, even after an incredibly rough day on the field, was the most disappointing thing.