Ragin’ Cajuns face long odds Saturday at Appalachian State _lowres

Associated Press photo by David Stephenson -- UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth has kept his defense aggressive during the first two games, leading to 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks, both in the top 20 in the nation.

LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette football team will be in an unfamiliar setting this week, and that is not a reference to the fact it is playing in the mountains of Appalachia rather than the low-lying swamps of Acadiana.

The Cajuns are 20.5 point underdogs this weekend against Appalachian State, which marks the largest point spread against the Cajuns in a conference game since Troy was favored by the same margin in 2010, according to an OddsShark.com database.

The largest point spread against the Cajuns in coach Mark Hudspeth’s tenure was when Florida International was favored by 16.5 in Hudspeth’s first conference game, which the Cajuns won 36-31.

“Very few times have we not been picked favorites, but nevertheless that’s where we’re at, and that’s what we deserve right now by the way we’re playing,” Hudspeth said. “There were times last year where we were picked to win this game and we didn’t win, so just because you’re picked not to win don’t mean you can’t.”

Including this season, Hudspeth’s teams have been Vegas underdogs 10 times in 37 Sun Belt Conference games. They’ve won seven of those 10 games, though in the last four seasons they’ve never faced a spread of double digits against a conference foe.

Of course, the Cajuns have been on the wrong side of this, too. They were 15.5-point favorites last week against New Mexico State before losing by three. They were also eight point favorites last year against Appalachian State in a game they lost by 19. The Cajuns certainly haven’t forgotten that.

“I was telling our team, if they could come and beat us at our place last year when we were really rolling, winning six or seven in a row and coming off (three) straight bowl wins,” Hudspeth said, “I definitely know we have a football team that could go up there and compete well and have an opportunity to win if we could play very well.”

Closing time

The margin between happiness and heartbreak — and, for that matter, a winning record and a losing record — has been razor-thin for the Cajuns in the last two weeks.

“As a staff, this week we’re trying to find a way to close a game,” Hudspeth said. “These last two games were both games we were ahead with (four) minutes to go in the contest and we did not finish the game.

“Two opportunities to really change the season. Right now, we could be sitting 6-4 if we could’ve finished out the last two games. But the reality of it is we’re 4-6.”

The script for each game was remarkably similar: The Cajuns scored a couple touchdowns to seize a lead in the fourth quarter, then coughed it up in the final minutes. In both cases, a late interception thrown by quarterback Brooks Haack helped seal their fate.

“It’s not a three-quarter game, it’s a four-quarter game,” Haack said. “Whether it comes down to the last drive or not, I’ve got to take care of the ball and not force throws.”

Horst at right guard

Grant Horst might be on pace to set or tie some kind of a record this year after Saturday’s game, though it’s probably not one he wanted.

Hudspeth said Horst would likely start the Appalachian State game at right guard, where he filled in last week in a reserve role after missing the week of practice to recover from a concussion.

That would mean, through 11 games, Horst will have started at four of the five offensive line spots. It doesn’t look like he’ll get a chance at right tackle to complete the sweep, though.

“(Right guard) is where they’re probably going to leave him for the rest of the season barring injuries,” Hudspeth said.

Safety matters

Hudspeth said sophomore safety Travis Crawford (shoulder) will return to the lineup this weekend after missing the New Mexico State game.

Senior T.J. Worthy, who has not played in the last three games, has also been working his way back into the lineup during practice this week.