LAFAYETTE - As paradoxical as it might seem, a 27-point season-opening defeat at Oklahoma State might have been a catalyst in the five-game winning streak for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team.
That is the analysis of ULL quarterback Blaine Gautier and Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, who are a victory away from establishing the best start ever for any Sun Belt Conference team.
In order to accomplish that, ULL (5-1,3-0) needs to defeat North Texas (2-4, 1-1) in a 4 p.m. homecoming contest Saturday at Cajun Field.
No Sun Belt team has ever started better than 6-1. In terms of ULL program history, a win would mark the longest winning streak since the 1993 team won six straight.
The Sept. 3 OSU game, a 61-34 Cajuns’ loss, was Hudspeth’s first as ULL’s coach and Gautier’s initial contest as a season-opening starter.
Both said that despite the outcome, the Cajuns learned much about themselves at Boone Pickens Stadium that night.
“I felt a lot better about this team after the Oklahoma State game, believe it or not,” said Hudspeth, who inherited a team that finished 3-9 the year before. After that game, I knew we had guys who would fight and go through the fourth quarter. Looking back on it, I feel that we played (Oklahoma State) about as well as anyone else, if you look at the scores of the games.”
Gautier completed 13 of 26 passes for 106 yards and ran for a touchdown in that game.
While he was later replaced in that game by senior Chris Masson, Gautier said he and the Cajuns gained some needed confidence.
“I definitely think we did a decent job,” the former Lutcher quarterback said. “Although we didn’t come out with a win, we did see some good things that we did on the film (against OSU).”
Gautier said that confidence continued to build the next week with a 20-12 win at Kent State, followed by victories over Nicholls State (38-21) and and FIU (36-31).
“We came up with our confidence really big against (FIU). They got some Top 25 votes that week, and after that game our confidence boosted real high,” Gautier said.
A junior, Gautier has 1,035 yards of total offense after six games. He played a little more than 12 minutes before coming out of last week’s 31-17 win over Troy because of an ankle sprain.
Hudspeth said the injury is not serious and Gautier will start against North Texas.
Hudspeth said some aspects of Gautier’s development from last year’s No. 2 to this season’s starter have been surprising.
“We (ULL coaches) heard that he had talent, but that we couldn’t put a whole lot on him. So far (Gautier) has really handled all of it well, getting all the signals we give and managing things very well,” Hudspeth said. “You see him sit back in the pocket, calm and collected with his feet, and he’s really smooth out there.”
Hudspeth gives much of the credit for Gautier’s development to offensive coordinator Jay Johnson.
“Jay has done a great job with Blaine. I think (Gautier) is a (legitimate) dual threat. Usually, I’ve found running quarterbacks are not the most accurate passers, but so far (Gautier) has been very accurate,” Hudspeth said.
At first, Johnson had Gautier strictly underneath center, but lately he’s played where he did last season in the shotgun.
“I’m more comfortable in the shotgun, but, to be honest, I have no problem staying in the pocket and throwing the ball,” Gautier said.