LAFAYETTE — Mark Hudspeth was freshly showered and nattily dressed as he stepped up to face the camera and recording devices following a loss in a passageway beneath the bleachers at Ladd-Peebles stadium.
He looked fresh, he had the same aura of confidence as usual, but he sounded tired. Tucked away between his analysis of the game and his upbeat message about his team’s future, out of his mouth tumbled the same phrase that he’s been saying more and more the last several weeks.
“It’s been one of those years,” Hudspeth said.
This isn’t doubting Hudspeth. Yes, it has been one of those years for the Cajuns. Anybody who has said that line before, even with a substitute noun (it’s been one of those days, one of those weeks, etc.) knows the feeling all too well.
It’s a feeling that suggests things are out of your control entirely. That no matter what you do, there’s always something acting against you with greater force. The bad side wins even when all your will is behind you.
In football, the bad side is the guy across the line of scrimmage from you most of the time. But the bad side is sometimes yourself, and sometimes it’s your own mistakes that act as a sort of proof that nothing is going to go your way.
It certainly was at times Thursday night against South Alabama, when what would’ve seemed to be one miniscule self-inflicted error that possibly changed the entire complexion of the game.
Think about the possible dominoes that fall if Jesse Freeman does not get penalized for a false start on the Cajuns’ first extra-point attempt. If Freeman doesn’t get a penalty, neither does D’Aquin Withrow on the next play, and therefore South Alabama likely does not block the ensuing extra point from the 29-yard line.
That missed extra point caused the Cajuns to go for two on each of their fourth-quarter touchdowns, both of which failed. If they successfully kick the extra point on all of those, they would’ve had a four-point lead with 8:26 to go.
Maybe with a four-point lead they don’t try to push the ball down the field with the passing game and don’t throw an interception that sets up South Alabama’s go-ahead score. Even if they do, the Cajuns then would’ve only needed to drive into field goal range to tie the game.
Then again, it’s possible everything plays out the same way regardless of that one seemingly insignificant false start penalty. The point is, you think back on that sort of stuff, and it starts getting into your head — this idea that you’re doomed to fail.
The Cajuns have, at times, looked phenomenal this season. They’ve been incredibly fun to watch when that happens, because they’ve taken control of the game with all three phases of their team.
But the problem is there has been virtually no middle ground for this team. Try to think of a time when the Cajuns have just played OK this season. I can’t think of one.
When it has been bad, it has been truly putrid, from the play-calling to the execution right on down to the little things like wrapping up a tackle, or looking a pass into your hands. And when that starts happening, as it has too often this season, the heads start shaking in disbelief and the refrain starts gathering steam.
It’s been one of those years, man.
A postgame shower can’t wash that belief from the team, and probably neither will the final three games of the regular season.
It’s possible the Cajuns will win two of their final three games to earn bowl eligibility, because they’ve shown glimpses that they can not only play with but can beat just about anybody on their schedule — perhaps with the exception of Louisiana Tech, who stifled the Cajuns from start to finish.
Then again, it seems just as likely that this season could end with the Cajuns missing out on the postseason because, well, it’s been one of those years.