LAFAYETTE — Two teams eager to rectify last week’s disappointments meet in a key Sun Belt Conference contest Saturday night at Cajun Field.
For the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the 6 p.m. contest against Western Kentucky represents a chance to forget about last week’s 27-20 loss at Florida and regain status among the SBC leaders.
Like the Cajuns, WKU (6-4, 3-3) was once among the early leaders in the conference standings. The Hilltoppers have faltered lately, losing three of the past four league games, including last Saturday’s 37-28 defeat to Florida Atlantic in Bowling Green, Ky.
“You have two teams fighting for a win, dying for a win. You should get a ball game out of that,” WKU coach Willie Taggert said.
Meanwhile, ULL coach Mark Hudspeth has seen his Cajuns (5-4, 3-2) also lose three of the past four. Despite those defeats, Hudspeth said he’s encouraged about the remainder of the season and the play of former backups now playing key roles.
“I feel we are hitting our stride,” Hudspeth said. “I think our confidence level has never been higher. We have nine or 10 new players who have been gaining experience and playing more confidently.
“If we have a remote chance at winning the conference, then this is a must game.”
The Cajuns face a WKU team that leads the conference in several categories, including overall defense.
ULL also has to find a way to contain SBC rushing leader Antoine Andrews, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven games this season. Andrews has 1,141 rushing and 2,312 all-purpose yards.
WKU also features linebacker Andrew Jackson (97 tackles) and defensive end Quanterus Smith, conference’s sacks leader. Free safety Jonathan Dowling leads the league in interceptions with five.
ULL safety Rodney Gillis and cornerback Jermarlous Moten have combined for nine interceptions.
Hilltoppers quarterback Kawaun Jakes is also the league’s pass efficiency leader. Jakes has also thrown for 1,967 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Taggert said WKU is concerned about refocusing after become bowl-eligible several weeks ago.
“It’s not time to panic,” he said. “It’s time to find a solution. It’s the same team that won games earlier in the year. Feeling sorry for ourselves is not going to help us beat ULL.”
ULL has also lost two straight to WKU. The Hilltoppers’ 2010 win in Lafayette ended their 26-game losing streak.
The Cajuns also need to put a devastating loss to Florida behind. The Gators scored late in last Saturday’s game on a blocked punt and return to pull out a 27-20 win.
“We are really focused on this game and finishing (after losing to Florida on the game’s last play). Last year we went into (the WKU game) big-headed and let our guard down, letting (WKU) take advantage of it,” ULL wide receiver Harry Peoples said.
Hudspeth watched this week as senior quarterback Blaine Gautier threw passes accurately in practices. The former Lutcher High School star hasn’t played since breaking several bones in his left throwing wrist against Florida International on Sept. 29.
While Gautier is ready to play if necessary, Hudspeth said sophomore Terrance Broadway will start against the Hilltoppers.
“Blaine is available, but he has a lot of rust on him,” Gautier said. “He should not be affected (by the injury) unless he happens to hit his hand on something. The (trainers) are going to put a pad on the bone and (Gautier) will also play with a glove on.”
Broadway, a former Capitol High School star, has thrown for 1,895 yards and 12 TDs.
“Terrance is our starter now. It’s Terrance’s team. It’s taken four games to get used to Terrance and get him into the saddle and get comfortable with all the calls and the mental part,” Hudspeth said.
Because of dismissals and suspensions, the Cajuns have been readjusting their defense over the past three games, including alternating a 4-3 scheme with their base 3-4 defense.
That move, Hudspeth said, has allowed ULL to take advantage of the depth along the defensive line.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Dominique Tovell is now the starter at the Bandit linebacker, while sophomore Jake Molbert has moved back to the starting Sam linebacker after Hudspeth suspended Qyendarius Griffin for the remainder of the season.
Sophomore Trevence Patt is now the strong safety starter for a third straight week after T.J. Worthy was demoted following Worthy’s second disciplinary suspension this year.