He is anxious for Saturday’s season opener at Kentucky to arrive, but Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth said that the anxiousness is different from the past couple of Ragin’ Cajun early-season games.
“Last year, we felt the pressure,” Hudspeth said Monday at his weekly news luncheon. “I told our team I don’t want them to feel that pressure going in, I just want them going in to play hard and executing. We know how to win football games at this point. We just need to take care of the football and follow our plan to win.”
The Cajuns are on a streak of four straight nine-win seasons and four straight R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl wins, joining Oregon as the nation’s only team to reach nine wins and a bowl game the past four years. But even with that success, UL-Lafayette has lost its first game against an FBS opponent in three of those four seasons.
The Cajuns are also 1-61 all-time against current Southeastern Conference members, and that lone win came before Texas A&M — whom they beat 29-22 in 1996 — was a member of that league.
“You always want to compete well against the best, and the SEC is the best,” Hudspeth said. “Our kids love to play on a big stage. They want to show they belong on the field against an SEC team on the road.”
The “big stage” is both figurative and literal on Saturday. Not only will the 6 p.m. game air on ESPNU, but Kentucky will also unveil the $120 million reconstruction of 61,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium. The stadium will have a new design and a new look and is part of $165 million in football improvements that includes a practice/office complex on the stadium’s south side that will open in 2016.
The Cajuns have been blaring crowd noise and band music over huge speakers at practices for over a week, helping simulate Saturday’s environment.
“I bet I know the Kentucky fight song as well as anybody in Kentucky,” Hudspeth said, “because I’ve heard it every day.”
With a new quarterback in place, either junior Brooks Haack or junior Jalen Nixon, and a completely new defensive scheme, Hudspeth said that battling the crowd noise has been a work in progress.
“The first day we did that (play the noise), we weren’t very good, but we’ve gotten better,” he said. “Communication is such a huge part of what we do, and how well we communicate is important. I think our guys are going to be ready for that.”
Hitting someone else
Junior linebacker Kevin Fouquier, son of the former Cajuns assistant coach of the same name, said Monday that Saturday’s opener can’t come quickly enough.
“It’s been too long, way too long,” said Fouquier, who figures to start at the Buck linebacker slot in UL-Lafayette’s new defensive alignment. “I can’t wait until Saturday. That’s the way every player feels on this team.”
Fouquier, who finished his undergraduate degree in three years and is in graduate school even though he still has two years of eligibility remaining, is thrilled with the schemes brought in by new coordinator Melvin Smith and the entirely new defensive staff.
“This position (Buck) suits me best, it suits my body type,” said Fouquier, who started four games as a sophomore last season. “I was recruited to play outside, and finally I’m able to play in that position and it feels good.”
That feeling will be even better when Saturday comes, if for no other reason to see different offensive personnel.
“I’m tired of seeing (Cajuns offensive guard Mykhael) Quave. (Running back Elijah) McGuire ... I’m really tired of seeing him,” he said.
Quave, who will be making his 40th straight start in the offensive line on Saturday, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m tired of seeing some of those defensive guys up front,” he said. “Some of them, they’re not attractive people.”
For the fourth straight year, Sonic Drive-In restaurants in the Acadiana area are featuring a “Ragin’ Cajun” hamburger on their menus for the first month of the football season. The burger is more spicy than the regular Sonic offerings, but is more distinctive for the edible full-color logo atop the bun.
This year, there are three different logos, with a football, a helmet and the standard Ragin’ Cajuns logo.
“That is just to make it different this year,” said Gary Wilkerson, president of Kergan Bros., Inc., which operates 54 Sonic Drive Ins in south and central Louisiana. “You don’t know exactly which one you’re going to get until you get your order.”
Wilkerson said the promotion has been a local hit over the past three years, something that has not been the case in other areas.
“About 10 other markets actually tried it,” he said, “and we’re the only ones left doing it. Honestly, they didn’t follow our model, and it wasn’t nearly as successful.
“Talk in Sonic land was because Lafayette and Acadiana is a tight community, but you can make that argument a lot of places. We had a model that works, and we’re planning on doing it forever and ever.”
Wilkerson also pointed out that each sale of a “Ragin’ Cajun” burger at area Sonics brings in money for the university because of the use of trademarked logos.
“It’s a commercial promotion, but it’s on a royalty basis,” he said. “Whenever we sell burgers, the university makes money. This is a partnership, and a win-win for both of us.”
Quave, for one, approved of the burger after a Monday sampling.
“A big shout-out to them,” he said. “But full belly, empty belly, you’re still going to get an angry Mykhael on Saturday.”