LAFAYETTE — Challenge issued. Challenge met.
That’s the way University of Louisiana at Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth felt as he surveyed the postgame scene Saturday night.
• Run the football? That’s what Hudspeth wanted to see on offense, so freshman Alonzo Harris complied and ran 33 times, scored twice and gained 189 of the team’s 338 rushing yards as the Ragin’ Cajuns defeated Middle Tennessee 45-20 in a Sun Belt Conference game in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Before kickoff, the Cajuns were averaging just 121 yards per game rushing, good for sixth place in the nine-team conference.
e_SBlt Stop Middle Tennessee’s league-leading running attack? That mission was also on Hudspeth’s list. And though Middle Tennessee gained 176 yards, the Blue Raiders’ running game was never allowed to create momentum.
Those two sides of the running game worked against the Cajuns the previous Saturday at in a 42-23 loss at Western Kentucky as ULL gained a meager 121 yards on the ground, while the Hilltoppers rushed for 234 on 44 attempts.
In the wake of that loss, Hudspeth said afterward and often in interviews last week, “If you can’t run the football or stop the run, you are not going to win.” And in team meetings, he had the same message.
“I challenged our offense to run the football, and I challenged our defense to play great defensive football,“ Hudspeth said.
The Cajuns scored earlier off MT turnovers, with a Logan Kilgore interception returned 55 yards by linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan for a 14-0 lead.
Lewis-Buchanan’s return gave ULL its 12th interception of the season and the sixth returned for a touchdown.
MT entered at the top of every offensive category, but Hudspeth said the early turnovers were significant.
“We got those turnovers; that was huge. Also, we wanted to keep the Middle Tennessee offense in front of us all night, and we did that.” Hudspeth said. “We did not want to give up the big plays.”
The result now is the Cajuns (7-2, 5-1 SBC) have the most wins of any ULL team since 1993 and a chance at playing beyond a Nov. 26 regular season-ending game at Arizona.
ULL was a six-game winner for five of the past seven seasons, but the Cajuns never received a bowl bid — something they have sought since their last appearance in 1970.
The Cajuns are behind SBC leader Arkansas State (6-2, 4-0) in percentage points, and ULL has two more conference games remaining.
Louisiana-Monroe (2-6, 1-3) visits Cajun Field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. And ULL ends conference play Nov. 12 at Arkansas State.
Ask Hudspeth today about “key games” remaining on the schedule, and he will give the same answer that he has all season.
There’s no bigger game than the next one, Hudspeth has kept saying.