LAFAYETTE — After a couple of restless days of knowing only the where and when of their Dec. 20 New Orleans Bowl game, the Louisiana-Lafayette football team finally has a who to set its sights on.
Set to make their fourth straight appearance in the New Orleans Bowl — and seeking their fourth straight win — the Ragin’ Cajuns learned Sunday afternoon that they’ll play Nevada.
“Excited to finally get some direction,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We’ve sort of been a ship without a rudder this last week as we tried to prepare the best we could for the bowl game.”
With a little less than two weeks until showtime — the teams kick off at 10 a.m. next Saturday — the Cajuns can start preparing in earnest for a challenging opponent.
Nevada is led by senior quarterback Cody Fajardo, whom Hudspeth called “one of the best players in college football.” The stats show that statement isn’t exactly hyperbole: Fajardo is one of two players in Football Bowl Subdivision history to throw for more than 9,000 yards and rush for more than 3,000 yards in his career.
The other? Another Wolfpack signal caller, Colin Kaepernick.
“He’s a guy you don’t stop; you just try to slow down and try to contain,” Hudspeth said. “He is going to be an exceptional player, an exceptional person to try to defend.”
This season, Fajardo has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and 18 scores while picking up 997 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Fajardo is the centerpiece of an offense that has multiple playmakers. Four Nevada receivers hauled in at least 30 passes, and three ran for at least 620 yards. The Wolfpack scored at least 20 points in each of its games this season.
“They put up a lot of points, and it’ll be a challenge to stop them,” Hudspeth said. “We’ll have to score points. … (The Cajuns offense is) going to have to pick up that responsibility of knowing coming into the game that we’re going to have to move the football and score points, because you’re not coming into this game thinking you’re going to shut this team out or shut them down.”
The Cajuns have had issues stopping potent offenses at times this year, and Hudspeth acknowledged that his best weapon against the Wolfpack might be his team’s running game.
“We’ll need to find ways to keep them off the field,” he said. “Our best defense can be when our offense is on the field and Cody Fajardo is on the sideline, because that guy is an incredible player.”
That the Cajuns have their own playmakers was not lost on Nevada coach Brian Polian.
“They are very athletic across the board and have an explosive offense,” he said in a news release. “Coach Hudspeth has done a tremendous job leading their program to multiple bowl games, and I have no doubt that we will have our hands full.”
The Nevada offense wasn’t the first thing that jumped off the page when Hudspeth started doing some research, though. The Wolfpack won four of its final six games after stumbling to a 3-3 start against some tough competition.
Nevada lost by a touchdown to a 10-win Arizona team, then lost by five to an 11-win Boise State squad and by seven to a 10-win Colorado State team. The Wolfpack’s five losses came to teams that went a combined 46-17 this season, and four of those losses came by a touchdown or less.
“They’ve had a phenomenal season,” Hudspeth said.
This will be Nevada’s ninth bowl appearance in the past 10 years — with last season being the lone year the Wolfpack missed postseason play since 2005. Nevada has lost six of its past seven bowl games.
The schools have played each other just once, a game Nevada won 38-14 at home in the 1995 season opener when the Cajuns and Wolfpack were both in the Big West Conference.