Cajuns linebacker Darzil Washington loses weight to gain sacks _lowres

Photo by Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com -- UL-Lafayette linebacker Darzil Washington

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Darzil Washington was not at practice Wednesday, and that sealed his fate for this Saturday’s game against Louisiana Tech.

“He is not going to play this weekend,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We’re going to hold him out one more (game). He might could go, but I would hate to risk it because we need him for the remainder of the season. It’s a long season.”

The Cajuns were counting on Washington to be a crucial member of their new-look defense as an edge pass rusher, but he hasn’t played since he separated his shoulder early in the Cajuns’ season opener against Kentucky.

The game against Louisiana Tech was the earliest the Cajuns were hoping to get Washington back from his injury. The original timetable had Washington missing 3-6 weeks.

Washington practiced with the team in a limited role Tuesday but was absent entirely Wednesday.

Coaches are treading carefully with Washington because of the nature of his injury.

“When we turn him loose, we want to make sure he’s ready,” Hudspeth said. “Because eventually he can be a difference-maker for us. But if he hurts it one more time, he might be out for the year. We’ve got to make that decision.”

Playing in just 10 games a year ago, Washington tallied five sacks — second-most on the team behind Christian Ringo’s Sun Belt Conference-leading 11½.

Butler did it

After facing what he deemed to be the toughest defensive front his team has seen this season against Akron, Hudspeth figures the Cajuns are in for what might be an even greater challenge this week in Louisiana Tech.

Leading the charge for the Bulldogs’ front seven is senior defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who landed on preseason watch lists for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy.

“Vernon Butler is one of the best defensive linemen we’ll face this year,” Hudspeth said.

Butler lived in opposing backfields last season, tallying 13 tackles for loss. The Cajuns held him in check last season, though, limiting him to one solo tackle in the loss.

“He’s a big body that can move,” Hudspeth said. “He’s very physical, he’s hard to handle. He gets a lot of push. We want to try to establish the run game and he makes it tough, because he really tries to establish a new line of scrimmage.”

Strength vs. strength

Louisiana Tech ranks 110th nationally in third-down conversion percentage, coming through on just 18 of 55 attempts. Through four games, the Bulldogs have yet to convert better than 43 percent of their third-down attempts.

The Cajuns haven’t fared much better defending third downs, ranking 103rd nationally in defensive conversion percentage. Their ranking took a dive after Akron went 9-for-18 on third down last week — including several conversions that came on third-and-long.

Defensively, the Bulldogs allow opponents to convert at 35 percent, while the Cajuns have picked up a first down 45 percent of the time.