LAFAYETTE — There’s still an undefeated team at the top of the Sun Belt Conference standings, but it’s not the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
After Saturday’s 42-23 loss at Western Kentucky, the Cajuns (6-2, 4-1 SBC) fell into second place behind Arkansas State (5-2), currently in first by percentage points and a 3-0 record.
Just behind the Cajuns is WKU (3-4, 3-1), which has won three straight conference games.
ULL had been atop the SBC for the past three weeks and had won four straight league games before losing in Bowling Green, Ky.
The loss also marked the Cajuns’ second straight to the Hilltoppers, who have outscored ULL 96-45 in the past two meetings.
The Cajuns have three straight SBC games remaining, including Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Middle Tennessee.
WKU coach Willie Taggart said the win over the Cajuns was significant. The Hilltoppers ended an 18-game home losing skid.
“That was important, to know that we can play with the big boys and that we are improving,” Taggart said. “We have said it from Day 1 that our expectation is to win the Sun Belt.
“I said it early in the week, that to be the man, you have to beat the man. This time, Louisiana-Lafayette is the man, and we beat the man. That was the next team on the mountain that we are climbing, and we accomplished that.”
The loss was also paramount for the Cajuns, who became bowl eligible following last week’s win over North Texas and could have established a commanding presence in the SBC by defeating WKU.
ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said there was no doubt which team was superior Saturday.
WKU, which Hudspeth said “whipped” his team on both sides of the ball, used a style of play uncommon among SBC offenses.
“They have a physical team, and they played physical,” he said. “I tell you what, give them credit.”
The Cajuns, entering the game as the league’s red zone efficiency leader, scored only six points in the second half and were hampered by a running game that netted only 121 yards.
“When you step into the red zone, you have to capitalize,” Hudpseth said.
“We moved the ball up and down the field, throwing and catching, but we could not run the ball.”
Taggart said WKU’s defense played a part in the result.
“I challenged the guys this week,” he said. “I told them if they came out and played like they are capable of playing, like we expect them to play, we will win this game.”
Hudspeth’s postgame analysis didn’t spare his defensive staff from criticism.
ULL allowed 540 total yards, giving the Hilltoppers 949 in total offense against the Cajuns in successive years.
Conference rushing leader Bobby Rainey gained 206 on 32 carries, while quarterback Kawaun Jakes threw for 242, giving him 504 yards in two seasons against ULL.
“It was a poor effort by our defensive coaches and the (ULL) coaching staff as a whole,” Hudspeth said. “You can’t win when you can’t run yourself or stop the run. Our running game was inept, at best.”