LAFAYETTE — As preseason camp ended, two things appeared certain about the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team.
The Cajuns secondary was the strong point of a veteran defense and offensively there was still a question whether junior Blaine Gautier, with only two previous ULL starts, could fill the need at quarterback.
Now that the regular season has ended, ULL’s secondary has lived up to expectations, and Gautier has led an offense that leads the Sun Belt Conference in several categories.
Now both Gautier and the defense have a chance to set school records when ULL plays in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17, ending Mark Hudspeth’s first year as head coach.
For the defense, Saturday’s 41-yard, fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown by safety Jemarlous Moten in a 45-37 loss at Arizona, was the seventh, tying an NCAA record set in 1971 by the University of Tennessee.
Four of those TD interception returns came in the Cajuns’ first four games.
Moten had another interception earlier in the game, tying him with linebacker Lance Kelley and cornerback Dwight Bentley for the team interception’s lead with three each.
Gautier went 24 of 36 for 315 yards. His first-quarter pass to running back Alonzo Harris gave him 20 TD tosses this season, tying him with Jake Delhomme (1993 and 1996).
Gautier has thrown for 2,468 yards, including 876 in the past three games, this year.
Hudspeth in demand?
Last week, Hudspeth denied he had been contacted by other schools seeking head coaches, but his name keeps being mentioned as a candidate for the Ole Miss job on several websites associated with Ole Miss football.
Hudspeth, a Mississippi native who played and coached at Delta State and came to ULL from Mississippi State, is listed as a candidate along with Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze (a former Ole Miss assistant under Ed Orgeron), Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, Baylor coach Art Briles, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and Alabama assistant Kirby Smart.
Hudspeth earns $360,000 per year at ULL. Outgoing Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt was paid $2.7 million this season, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, which also reported Nutt is being given another $6 million to leave.
Frustration at Arizona
ULL (8-4) and Arizona combined for 35 fourth quarter points. The Cajuns pulled to within eight of the Wildcats (4-8) three times.
ULL scored the game’s last points with 5:05 remaining on Gautier’s 10-yard run, but the Cajuns never got another offensive possession.
The Cajuns were penalized 10 times for 106 yards, while Arizona received three penalties for 20 yards.
Hudspeth said penalties were a factor, especially after the Cajuns received one for 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct because of an excessive end zone celebration after Moten’s touchdown.
“After the penalty in the end zone, we kick off deep and (Arizona) ran the next one back (81 yards to the ULL 2), and then it’s 38-23 (with 13:28 remaining),” Hudspeth said. “When you’re battling all game to take the lead, (penalties) are going to hurt a lot. We were always just a step away, and we kept coming back against a Pac-12 team. It’s the fourth quarter, and we still have a chance.”
Fourth quarter reversal
At the start of the season, Hudspeth promised the Cajuns would be better conditioned and play more inspired during the fourth quarter.
ULL’s 21 final quarter points against Arizona, enabled the Cajuns to outscore their opponents 110-106 in the fourth periods of game this year.
In 2010, ULL was outscored 136-40 in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans Bowl officials are waiting to announce ULL’s opponent.
All but two of the previous 10 games have included a Conference USA team.
Southern Miss (10-2) and Houston (12-0) play for the C-USA title in Houston on Saturday, and the remaining CUSA bowl-eligible teams are Marshall (6-6), Tulsa (8-4) and SMU (7-5).