LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team survived its Sun Belt Conference opener against one of the league’s most prolific passing teams.
Now the Ragin’ Cajuns will face a much more balanced offense, one that can run and pass with equal efficiency. In other words, a team just like the Cajuns when they are operating at peak performance — which has happened only in spurts this season.
UL-Lafayette will need that kind of offensive performance again Tuesday night, but defense might be more important when the Cajuns (2-3, 1-0) journey to face Texas State (3-2, 1-0) in their first of back-to-back midweek games.
“I like the Tuesday games a lot better than the Thursday games,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “On Thursday, you share with other college games and now the NFL. On Tuesday, you don’t share with anybody. ... A lot of people are going to be watching the Ragin’ Cajuns.”
Hudspeth is hoping those ESPN2 viewers like what they see for the 7 p.m. kickoff at Bobcat Stadium, UL-Lafayette’s first trip to TSU. He’s hoping even more for a repeat of his team’s performance from when the Cajuns and Bobcats faced off for the first time last year.
That 48-24 Cajuns win wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. UL-Lafayette dazzled its Cajun Field audience with its best start-to-finish outing of the year. It was 45-3 late in the third quarter, and Texas State’s only touchdown from scrimmage came with 1:07 left.
“We out-physicaled them last year,” Cajuns defensive lineman Christian Ringo said. “We had prepared well, and that was our statement game.”
“We just weren’t in their ballpark last season,” Texas State coach Dennis Franchione said. “We were in the Sun Belt, but we weren’t in their league. That was our first Sun Belt game, and I’m not sure any of us knew what we were getting into. We got a rude awakening on how tough the league is. There was a big separation between us and them.”
That separation has shrunk dramatically. The Bobcats take a two-game winning streak into Tuesday’s matchup, having beaten Tulsa 37-34 in triple overtime and posting a 35-30 home win over Idaho to open Sun Belt play 10 days ago. Before that, TSU fell 42-35 at Illinois of the Big Ten.
“Should have beaten Illinois,” Hudspeth said. “You don’t have to look at them much to know they do a great job in preparation. They’re going to run a lot of different looks and formations, and we’ve got to be ready defensively to handle that.”
The Bobcats put up eye-popping rush numbers last week against Idaho, albeit against the Sun Belt’s worst defense. Running back Terrence Franks, who had only 124 rushing yards in TSU’s first four games, broke loose with a 284-yard effort that included touchdowns of 70, 70 and 95 yards. The 390-yard team total boosted TSU to 16th nationally in rushing (259.8).
Quarterback Tyler Jones didn’t have to go to the pass much against Idaho, throwing for 76 yards and a score, but he remains the Sun Belt’s most effective thrower. Jones, who made his first career start against the Cajuns last year, has a 151.0 efficiency rating and has thrown for a conference-leading 12 touchdowns.
He will face a Cajuns defense with some familiar faces in new roles. Hudspeth announced Sunday a revamp of the four-man linebacker corps, with converted safety T.J. Worthy shifted to outside linebacker and Dominique Tovell — the team leader in stops for loss — moving to an inside role. Trae Johnson, injured the past two games after leading UL-Lafayette in tackles in two of the first three, is back as an inside starter, and transfer Darzil Washington gets his second start at an outside spot.
“All these guys can run,” Hudspeth said. “Moving T.J. in there is going to improve our communication and coverage skills at all of the linebacker spots, not just that one.”
The Cajuns offense had its most consistent numbers since the season opener last week in its 34-31 win over Georgia State. Despite cramps and dehydration that forced him to miss much of the team’s final game-winning drive, quarterback Terrance Broadway was 20-of-26 for 216 yards and two scores. Wide receiver Jamal Robinson returned after missing three weeks following minor knee surgery to catch eight passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cajuns rushed for 195 yards.
“We got back to playing our game, understanding our identity,” senior guard Daniel Quave said. “It’s football and adversity is going to come, but we just kept doing what we needed to do, and it felt good to get our confidence back.”