LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa came into their season openers with plenty of questions, and many of them went unanswered in Week 1.
The Ragin' Cajuns needed two huge special-teams plays to escape with a 51-48 home win over Football Championship Subdivision school Southeastern Louisiana. Earlier in the day, the Golden Hurricane repeatedly gave up big plays in a 59-24 loss at then-No. 10 Oklahoma State.
Those results left doubt in both camps ahead of the teams' first meeting in a quarter-century at 3 p.m. Saturday at Tulsa's H.A. Chapman Stadium.
“When you go back and watch game tape, you see a lot of positives, and you see a lot of things you have to improve on,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “The thing we have to improve is to get better defensively.”
On that point, there is no question. SLU rolled up 514 yards and had three drives of 70 yards or longer despite no marches of more than 10 plays. Only four FCS teams had more than the Lions’ 343 rushing yards, and only seven Football Bowl Subdivision teams allowed that many — none of them giving up that total to an FCS school.
The Cajuns will be better staffed personnel-wise Saturday with the expected return of some defensive regulars and a couple of promising prospects. But that defense will face a Tulsa offense that’s potentially much more explosive. The Golden Hurricane ranked fourth nationally in 2016, going for 527 yards per game. It also was seventh in scoring (42.5 points) and eighth in rushing (261.7 yards).
That led Hudspeth to post some Hurricane warnings this week.
“You don’t want to get in a track meet with these guys,” he said. “They spread the field, and if you spread out with them, they’ll kill you with the running game. If you stay tight, they’re going down the field.”
UL-Lafayette’s defensive concerns are balanced by a major question in the Golden Hurricane attack. Tulsa returns seven offensive starters, including 1,435-yard rusher D’Angelo Brewer and four of five offensive linemen, but experience at quarterback is lacking. No one knew whether little-used sophomore Chad President or redshirt freshman Luke Skipper would start at Oklahoma State until President took the field.
After a shaky start, President hit on 18 of 35 passes for 178 yards while playing all but two series. But coach Philip Montgomery, who serves as his own offensive coordinator, said the spot is still up for grabs.
“Chad got the majority of the snaps the other night because we felt like he was doing some good things, extending some drives," Montgomery said. "But that’s not to say that if Luke was in there, he couldn’t do the same.”
UL-Lafayette’s new-look offense also was hit-and-miss with its new starter at quarterback. Jordan Davis threw for 162 yards and a score, guiding an offense that had no turnovers and only two penalties, but the Cajuns also had six three-and-outs and converted only five third downs.
Had it not been for Raymond Calais’ 100- and 97-yard touchdowns on kickoff returns, the night could have unfolded much differently.
“We’re going to hopefully show a lot of improvement between Game 1 and Game 2,” Hudspeth said. “We’re going to have more depth available this week and that will help, and we’re going to need it with the snaps we’re going to have to play.”
Safety Tracy Walker played only the second half last Saturday, a carryover from a targeting call in December’s New Orleans Bowl, and safety Travis Crawford and linebacker Tanner Holmes left early with injuries. End Jarvis Jeffries was limited, and safety Denarius Howard and end Zi’Yon Hill were cleared to return to practice this week.
Injuries are also an issue at running back after starter Trey Ragas left in the second quarter last week with a hand injury and projected season starter Darius Hoggins was still not back with a broken jaw suffered off the field. With 11, freshman Elijah Mitchell wound up with the most carries of any Cajuns player in the opener.
“We feel like we have a good stable of backs,” Hudspeth said. “Getting some of them to play this much early, that’s going to help us down the road.”