LAFAYETTE — For the fans, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 2015 season can’t be put in the rearview mirror quickly enough, but the coaches and players should sear the feeling from the aftermath into their memory as they venture into 2016.
The Cajuns wrapped up a lost season in nightmarish fashion Saturday against Troy. The same problems plagued them in a 41-17 loss that plagued them in their first 11 games.
They turned the ball over too much and failed to cause a turnover on defense. The Cajuns gave the ball away four times, bringing their season turnover margin to minus-9. The last time they ended up that far on the wrong side of the turnover battle was way back in 1998.
They trailed 24-0 at the end of the first quarter and went to the locker room at halftime trailing 24-10. That was the seventh time in 12 games they had trailed by more than 10 points at halftime. They finished the season getting outscored by more than 100 points in the first half (238-135).
Their quarterback position, somehow, is more unclear now than it was at the beginning of the season. All three of the Cajuns signal callers who battled for the starting job four months ago received significant playing time, and none distinguished himself as the front-runner.
The running game, a constant in coach Mark Hudspeth’s tenure, lacked explosiveness despite the return of Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Elijah McGuire. The Cajuns averaged 2.6 yards per carry against Troy, the fifth time in their final six games that they averaged 3.5 yards per carry or less.
The defense gave up two touchdown passes of longer than 60 yards, both of which came on short passes where the receiver outran the defense to the end zone. Louisiana-Monroe, which went 2-11, was the only team in the Sun Belt to give up as many passes of 50 or more yards (eight) as the Cajuns this season. On the flip side, the Cajuns only connected on two passes of 50 or more yards.
The Cajuns knew their shortcomings and were powerless against them. It was, top to bottom, a colossal stinker of a year for a team that had dreams of a conference title, and it’s mercifully over.
Now we’ve arrived at a critical juncture for Hudspeth and the Cajuns. How do they respond to the massive letdown?
Hudspeth has already pledged to “hit the reset button” with his team, first using that phrase with regard to his offense, then referencing after Saturday’s loss the need to re-evaluate what the team was doing on defense as well.
Despite what the on-field product suggested this season, the Cajuns are not bereft of talent. Injuries certainly played a role, as did inexperience, but the Cajuns consistently did not find the best way to use their playmakers in ways that fit their abilities.
That responsibility falls on the coaches, and Hudspeth acknowledged that failure with his commitment to change during the offseason. The Cajuns figure to get their money’s worth out of the new film room at the Athletic Performance Center in the coming months.
All of this is good, by the way. Maybe not the way the season unfolded — that was painful — but the change it can bring about. The Cajuns have ridden the highs of their successes for a couple of years, but the way this season went down has forced them to put their operation under the lens.
Change is needed, even for those with successful track records. The best college football teams adapt and evolve as the years go on. The ones that don’t get left in the dust.
The 2015 season is now a painful part of the past. Their eyes may be focused toward the future, but as they’re on the journey to rediscovering success, the Cajuns would do well to keep that 2015 scar in plain sight, the nadir visible from the peaks of previous years.