As the Ragin’ Cajuns get set to take on Boise State in their final nonconference game, they find themselves at an unexpected crossroad.
It’s not necessarily the 1-2 record, but the way the Cajuns played in those two losses.
In those losses to Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss, the Cajuns have been outscored 104-35, have given up 1,087 yards from scrimmage and have turned the ball over seven times while forcing just one of their own.
Most, the Cajuns players and coaches included, expected to be more competitive three games into the season. Now, as they gear up for a tough game on the road against the Broncos (2-1), the Ragin’ Cajuns feel they can set the tone for the remainder of their season by playing up to their potential.
“To win this game right here? It would be a big morale boost,” said senior linebacker Trae Johnson. “The past two weeks, we’ve had some sad and bad meetings on Sundays when we get back up here.”
Count Boise State coach Bryan Harsin as one who isn’t buying into what the scoreboards have said so far this season.
Harsin, who left Sun Belt Conference foe Arkansas State to take the job with the Broncos, remembers the Cajuns well from coaching against them last season. The Cajuns return a large chunk of the team that beat limited Harsin’s Red Wolves 168 offensive yards in a 23-7 win.
“I know how good this team is,” Harsin said. “I don’t take any stock in anything they’ve done score wise with anybody.”
All that taken into consideration, the matchup looks to heavily favor the Broncos on paper.
One aspect of the Cajuns game that hasn’t tailed off despite the poor start is the rushing offense, which is averaging better than 5.5 yards per carry through three games. But they might find it difficult to move the ball on the ground against the Broncos.
Boise State comes into the game with the nation’s stingiest run defense on a per-carry basis, allowing just 1.58 yards per tote this season.
Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said the Boise defensive front is not only talented, but disciplined in its gap assignments.
“The thing you notice about this Boise team is they play awfully hard,” Hudspeth said. “They run to the ball. You can tell they’re well-coached, well-prepared. It’ll be a huge challenge. They’re tough.”
Even more worrisome is the Broncos’ ability to force turnovers. Boise has intercepted seven passes this season, which is the second most in the country. That could spell disaster for a team that has thrown six interceptions on the year, which is tied for the second worst mark in the country.
The Cajuns are hoping a shift in their defensive schematics helps shore up a passing defense that has given up far too many plays in recent weeks. Hudspeth said his secondary will be more aggressive this week against a Boise passing offense that has had success this year.
The Broncos operate a difficult scheme to prepare for with myriad variations in formation and personnel groupings. It’s even harder to defend when Boise is playing on its home turf, where its blue uniforms match the playing surface.
“It’s a challenge just seeing what personnel groupings are coming into the game,” Hudspeth said. “When a player runs onto the field and you’re looking at him from the box, it’s hard to tell right away because the uniforms are blue, the field is blue and they all just sort of blend in.”
The Cajuns have their work cut out for them. But after the way the last two weeks have gone, they are simply trying to turn the right direction at the fork in the road where they currently find themselves.
“Not just winning but playing ball like we should, like we know we can, that’s the biggest thing,” Johnson said. “Coming out of this game with all the kinks worked out and just playing ball, 2-2 going into conference play. If we are cleaned up by then heading into conference play, it’s going to be pretty tough on whoever else we play.”