LAFAYETTE — When he looked at the game film from last week’s 32-25 loss to South Alabama, two words started circulating in Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth’s mind: Missed opportunities.
There were a lot of them, and they were easy to identify.
“A lot of bright spots, but also some things you can’t do if you expect to win football games on the road in a short week,” Hudspeth said. “You can’t do some of the things we did.”
There was a pair of dropped passes by the usually sure-handed sophomore receiver Gabe Fuselier, both of which came deep downfield and would’ve potentially jump-started an offense that had once again gone stagnant in the first half.
Hudspeth also counted two more drops in the game that he thought would’ve made an impact on the offensive end.
There were the numerous presnap penalties that likely had an impact on the score of a game the Cajuns lost by a touchdown. There were back-to-back false starts that pushed an extra point back 10 yards before it was subsequently blocked, and another false start that put the Cajuns in second and long and preceded a sack that knocked them out of field goal range.
“It’s been missed opportunities at the worst possible times,” said quarterback Brooks Haack. “… Any time we get down in the redzone it seems like we either put it in the end zone or we have some kind of mental mistake that puts us behind.”
Defensively, the Cajuns might’ve missed more tackles Thursday than they had in the previous conference games combined. That, Hudspeth said, was a result of players focusing on one thing when they should’ve been focused on the other.
“The main glaring thing defensively … (was) missed tackles,” Hudspeth said. “We were going for a lot of strips, and you can see the strip attempts over and over. I bet we had 50 strip attempts, but we probably had that many missed tackles.
“Obviously we want to get those strip attempts, I’m really on the defense about trying to create turnovers, but at the end of the day we’ve got to tackle first and hope those turnovers can come second.”
After playing outstanding run defense in the previous two weeks, holding both Georgia State and ULM to less than 80 yards on the ground, the Cajuns were gashed for 207 by South Alabama.
Senior linebacker Dominique Tovell refused to acknowledge that fatigue may have played a role in the Cajuns sloppy tackling display despite the fact that the team played two games in five days. But junior linebacker Otha Peters thought differently.
“I think a lot of guys on defense were tired and weren’t really running to the ball like they were supposed to,” Peters said.
Chalk all those things up and it’s a tried and true recipe for a loss in an otherwise close game.
“We know what we’ve got to do in order to correct things,” Hudspeth said. “They see these things on film, so it’s not a secret to them. They see the things. That’s what’s so disappointing, because you can see a catch right here that would change the game, you can see if we keep our hands on a pick right here we change the game.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to do that, just not getting it done.”
The Cajuns have three games left to try and capitalize on some of the opportunities they’ve let slip through the cracks thus far this season.
Hudspeth, ever the optimist, has a reason to think that his team is on the verge of figuring out how to make that happen even on the heels of a disappointing night where they failed to cash in.
“We’re not playing as well as we would like, but when you look at the film and you see some unbelievable great efforts — what we call relentless effort — you’ve got a chance to be a good football team,” Hudspeth said.
“We’ll get better at some of the things that these young kids are lacking, whether it’s fundamentals, whether it’s tackling, whether it’s throwing and catching, we’ll get better at those things when you have a team that gives you great effort.”