LAFAYETTE — There was precious little time for Louisiana-Lafayette to celebrate an instate rivalry win and the Ragin’ Cajuns’ reemergence in the Sun Belt Conference race on Monday.
The Cajuns, coming off a 40-24 weekend road win over UL Monroe, play a rare November nonconference game this week ... and not just any game. ULL (5-3, 3-2 Sun Belt) travels to face sixth-ranked (BCS) Florida in an 11:20 a.m. (CST) game aired over the SEC Network.
“That one’s in the rear-view mirror,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said of last weekend’s fifth straight win over the Warhawks. “Now, we’ve got a really huge test. They have one of the best defenses in the country, but our players are excited about the opportunity. We’ll be ready to go down and compete.”
The ULL-UF game was originally scheduled as an early season pre-league affair for both teams. However, the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC schedule created conflicts, and Florida officials requested the move last winter.
The Gators are 8-1 with their only loss a 17-9 setback against Georgia two weeks ago. Oddly, Florida has already completed SEC play, with only games against the Cajuns, Jacksonville State and state rival Florida State remaining. UF can still reach the SEC Championship Game if Georgia stumbles at Auburn on Saturday.
“We haven’t looked at them a lot ... we’re still making corrections from the Monroe game,” said Cajuns will linebacker Justin Anderson, the team leader in tackles (58) and solos (38). “It’s going to be a big-time atmosphere, but we have to treat it like any other game, just like we do each week.”
Anderson and his defensive mates held previously-league-unbeaten ULM to 74 rush yards in Saturday’s win. That came after back-to-back games when the Cajuns allowed 242 rush yards and 524 overall at North Texas, and 257 rush yards and 526 overall against Arkansas State.
“We had the least amount of busts of any game that we’ve had,” Anderson said of the ULM win. “I’m not sure how many busted assignments we had against Arkansas State, but it was a lot. We went back to fundamentals and doing what we’re supposed to do on each play.”
“The past couple of weeks have been tough, dealing with adversity, a lot of injuries and other things,” said free safety Rodney Gillis, who had his team-leading fourth pass theft of the year against ULM. “That had been giving us a lot of negative energy, but we stayed focused and had our mind set on one goal. We took those last couple of weeks personal, but we knew what we were capable of doing and the way we were capable of playing.”
The biggest aid to that defensive unit was having to play only 58 snaps against the Warhawks. ULL’s offense held possession for 40 minutes, 35 seconds compared to ULM’s 19:25, and the Cajuns had six touchdown drives of 77 or more yards, including three that took more than five minutes off the clock. In comparison, in ULL’s first seven games combined, the Cajuns had 14 drives of 75 or more yards and only two drives over 5:00.
“That’s one of the best offensive performances I’ve ever been a part of,” said Hudspeth of the 607-yard effort. “You saw guys do their job and play for four quarters. That really got us back on track a little.
“(Center) Andre Huval is the quarterback of that offensive line, and we won that game on the offensive line. The long drives, you don’t do that unless you win the line of scrimmage.”
Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway, making his fourth start after replacing injured regular Blaine Gautier in the Tulane game, threw for 373 yards and four scores and rushed for 87 yards and another touchdown. The former Baton Rouge-Capitol standout completed 23 of 32 passes with one interception that bounced off a receiver’s hands.
“As much heat as Terrance has taken the last two weeks, to see how he played and competed and managed the team, put the team on his shoulders, that was really satisfying to see,” Hudspeth said.
“We’ve always had confidence in Terrance,” said running back Alonzo Harris, who rushed for 61 yards and a score against the Warhawks. “It was just a question of how would he react under adversity and he did that.”
Tyla Hudspeth, Hudspeth’s wife, had qualified by time and was scheduled to run in Sunday’s New York Marathon before it was canceled. She had also run the Boston Marathon earlier this year, and her flight had just landed in New York on Friday when she got word of the cancellation. All runners who had qualified this year will be in the field for next year’s New York event.
Florida and ULL have played four previous times but not since the 1996 opener when the Gators took a 55-21 win. One week later, the Cajuns knocked off No. 25 Texas A&M 29-22 for their only win ever over a ranked team ... ULL kicker Brett Baer was named to the midseason All-America first team by ESPN.com this week, after being picked on the second team by SI.com and the third team by Phil Steele. Baer, who is 38 of 43 in field-goal attempts in his career and is ahead of NCAA record pace for career field goal percentage, was the only Sun Belt Conference athlete on any of those teams.