LAFAYETTE — When Louisiana-Lafayette’s running backs tried to find room to roam during their last couple of contests, some of the best defenders the Mid-American Conference or Conference USA have to offer were waiting.
Akron brought All-MAC nosetackle Cody Grice to Cajun Field last month in the Zips’ 35-14 win Sept. 26.
Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who’s on the Outland Trophy Award Watch List, was present last week in the Bulldogs’ 43-14 wipeout.
The Texas State Bobcats are allowing an average of 247.8 rushing yards, which ranks 119th out of 128 FBS teams. Will that equal less congestion up the middle and more space for the Cajuns in Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference opener?
“It seems like everybody these days has one or two good defensive linemen,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “You better have some defensive linemen to have a chance. We feel like they (the Bobcats) are solid up front, too.”
The continuity on the Cajuns’ offensive line, which helped the team average 217 yards on the ground, will be tested with the loss of left guard Mykhael Quave, who suffered a torn rotator cuff and is done for the year.
Center Eddie Gordon will make the move to left guard as part of the response to that injury. Gordon said the non-conference foes the Cajuns faced have had a positive impact on the unit.
“(Akron and Louisiana Tech) helped us get better,” Gordon said. “Tech had good players and Akron had a good line that came off the ball well.”
Texas State will be dealing with a different atmosphere on defense.
The Bobcats (1-3) are coming off consecutive losses in which they allowed 56 points to Southern Miss and 59 points to Houston.
Houston totaled 366 rushing yards and a 6.8-yard average. As a result, former defensive coordinator John Thompson resigned and Brad Franchione took on the coordinator duties. Both teams are making some changes on the fly.
“I don’t know if after seven or eight weeks, including camp, if they are just going to (wholesale) change up,” Hudspeth said. “They are not going to change terminology. Brad is going to do what fits his philosophy.”
The Bobcats do have the benefit of experience. Starting nose tackle Dallas McClarty (5-11, 270) is a junior who had three tackles in last season’s meeting, a 34-10 win for the Cajuns. Seniors Mershad Dillon (6-3, 300) and Rusmin Nikocevic (6-4, 258) will handle much of the workload at a couple of defensive line spots.
“They are an improved team over last year,” Gordon said. “Their nose (tackle) does a great job in one-on-one situations against the center. We have to go out and just compete and come off the ball.”
Senior running back Torrey Pierce, who had 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns when the Cajuns tangled with the defensive line of Kentucky in the season opener, said that past success against Texas State can be helpful to an extent.
“We can use that as a reason to be encouraged despite our 1-3 record,” Pierce said. “But at the same time, we understand we need this win really bad and we don’t treat it any different preparation-wise.”