Cajuns glad to turn focus on Sun Belt play on football schedule _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth talks with defensive back Jeryl Brazil on the sideline during a game against Akron on Sept. 26, 2015, at Cajun Field.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth isn’t one for clichés, but he dialed up one Monday at his weekly news luncheon.

“We saw a lot of positives when you look at the tape,” Hudspeth said of his team’s 43-14 loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday. “The old saying, ‘It’s never as bad as it is or never as good as it is,’ that’s us. It was bad in a lot of ways, but there were a lot of good things.”

The best thing for the Ragin’ Cajuns (1-3) is that they’re now finished with nonconference play. Their final eight games are all Sun Belt Conference affairs. UL-Lafayette may be 4-12 against nonleague FBS competition under Hudspeth, but his teams have compiled a 24-7 record against league foes over the past four seasons.

“Right now we’re going into conference play, and that’s the most important thing,” junior defensive tackle Karmichael Dunbar said. “We want to go undefeated and win the conference. That’s our only focus right now.”

League play for the Cajuns begins Saturday when they welcome Texas State (1-3, 0-0) at 6 p.m. at Cajun Field. The Bobcats had an open weekend after getting popped 59-14 at Houston the previous Saturday.

Texas State comes into the game ranked second in the Sun Belt in scoring, but the Cajuns should be used to facing a prolific offense after last weekend. UL-Lafayette stymied the Louisiana Tech rushing attack, holding the Bulldogs to a season-low 138 yards and standout running back Kenneth Dixon to 59 yards — less than half his normal output.

But Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel burned the Cajuns for 290 yards and two scores and was only 3 yards away from being the Bulldogs’ leading rusher.

“Give him credit, that’s what a fifth-year senior does,” Hudspeth said. “We’re still learning, and we’re still young back there.”

“We need to get more pass rush from the D-line,” Dunbar said. “That’ll help our defensive backs a lot. We’re really good on run stopping, we have to focus more on pass rush.”

The Cajuns offense lacked consistency with first-time starter Jalen Nixon at quarterback. The junior went 19-of-37 for 182 yards with two interceptions, one returned for a back-breaking touchdown on the final play of the half that gave the Bulldogs a 29-7 lead.

“Jalen ran the ball well,” Hudspeth said. “He ran the option extremely effectively. He missed a couple of passes. ... He had some nice shots, and a few he wishes would have been a little better thrown. As a whole, we just didn’t play well enough to win on the road against a very good team.”

Shaky D

Texas State is averaging 35.8 points per game, and junior quarterback Tyler Jones is second in the Sun Belt in total offense and passing.

But that offense has been playing catch-up much of the season. The Bobcats are last nationally in scoring defense (49.5 points per game) and passing defense (337.2 yards per game). Texas State has allowed 56, 59 and 56 points in its three games against FBS competition.

That’s a big reason why veteran coach John Thompson resigned last week as defensive coordinator, and long-time head coach Dennis Franchione promoted his son, Brad Franchione. The younger Franchione had been TSU’s linebackers and special teams coach.

“Coach Franchione is one of the guys I look up to in this business,” Hudspeth said. “He’s been successful everywhere he’s been, and he’s doing a great job of building that program. If coach Fran didn’t think he (Brad) was ready, he wouldn’t be doing that. He’s a coach’s son, and I haven’t seen many coaches’ sons that weren’t good coaches.”

Hudspeth said that change will cause his offensive staff to lose some sleep this week.

“They’ve got two weeks to prepare and a new coordinator,” he said. “Man, what are we going to see? Are they going to tweak it a little, or are they going to wholesale changes. They’ve got seven or eight weeks invested in those schemes, so that may be a factor. We’re going to have to prepare for an awful lot.”

Manageable thirds

UL-Lafayette was perfect against the Bulldogs on third-down conversions of 3 yards or less. When the chains were further, the Cajuns were one-of-seven, and the one came on an effort play when wide receiver Jamal Robinson broke three tackles on what became an 18-yard gain.

“That’s the first thing we talked about in offensive staff meeting,” Hudspeth said. “We were in third-and-long way too much. When we’re third-and-short, we’ve done that a lot these last few years and we know how to get that. There’s only so many magical plays on third-and-10, third-and-11.”

Hurting

Cornerbacks Troy McCollum and Jevante Watson both left Saturday’s game with injured right ankles, and linebacker Tre’maine Lightfoot missed time with a shoulder injury, adding to an injury-depleted defense that was already missing starting safety T. J. Worthy (hamstring) and pass rusher Darzil Washington (shoulder).

All but McCollum, who is listed as questionable, are expected back for Saturday’s game. Hudspeth said all will make a difference, especially Washington.

“He is our pass rush guy,” Hudspeth said. “We have our guys that are big and strong and can hold their gap, but they’re not built for the pass rush. (Washington) is one that can really bring it off the edge. I’m anxious to see how he does this week.”

#WeCanKickIt

Cajun fans are being asked to mix in some pink with their game-day red attire Saturday.

Breast cancer survivors and their care-givers from Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center will form a pregame tunnel for the players in honor of breast cancer awareness and those survivors.

The pink tunnel will include Rose Brown, who has survived 25 years after being diagnosed, and her sister, Mary Earline Adams. Brown is the grandmother of Cajuns freshman linebacker Terrance Jones of Pearland, Texas.

Fans are invited to get involved on social media with the hashtag #WeCanKickIt.