LAFAYETTE - How do you continue to motivate a team that has just accepted its first bowl invitation in 41 seasons?
That’s easy, says University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth.
Hudspeth reminded his players this week they have a chance to supply more history for the ULL record books at 3 p.m. Saturday when the Cajuns meet the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz.
The game ends the regular season for each team.
Since 1901, the Lafayette school’s football program has featured only two teams (1921 and 1976) that have won nine regular season games, Hudspeth said.
“Nine wins is something that has happened only twice in school history, and we’ve talked to our seniors about being someone that will leave their mark,” said Hudspeth, who in his first ULL season has led the Cajuns to an 8-3 overall mark and a 6-2 finish in the Sun Belt Conference.
On Monday, the Cajuns accepted an invitation to play in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Dec.17, but Hudspeth said the focus is finishing the regular season with a win against Arizona (3-8, 2-7 Pac-12).
While ULL celebrated its bowl commitment, Arizona underwent some excitement of its own on Tuesday when former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was named the Wildcats’ new head coach.
Rodriguez, 48, is Arizona’s third head coach since the season started.
The Wildcats started 1-5 under Mike Stoops (41-50 since 2004), who was replaced by defensive coordinator Tim Kish as interim head coach.
Cajuns defensive lineman Chris Tucker, a senior, said he’s looking forward to the Arizona game.
“We want to take advantage of this opportunity to play at a high level and get this program more exposure.
“If we don’t win, we will be the Cajuns’ team that lost two in a row,” said Tucker, referring to the Cajuns’ 30-21 loss at Arkansas State Nov. 12 that cost ULL a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship.
Hudspeth said the size of the Wildcats’ players makes Arizona look intimidating.
“They are what you would call a big, long team. All the wide receivers are tall, the defensive backs are in the 6-foot-1 range and the offensive linemen are all 6-8, 6-6 or 6-9,” said Hudspeth.
The Cajuns’ defense, which has 12 interceptions, will be matched against quarterback Nick Foles, who has completed 900 passes for 9,659 yards in his Arizona career.
ULL’s secondary and linebackers have returned six of the interceptions for touchdowns, but the Cajuns haven’t picked off a pass in the last two contests and one in the last five games.
Safety Lionel Stokes, who returned a 63-yard interception for a touchdown at Kent State Sept. 10, said it’s hard to say why the Cajuns haven’t picked off more passes lately.
“I really can’t answer that,” Stokes said. “We’ve had our hands on a couple that we didn’t intercept. Among the (defensive backs). I know that we’ve talked about it.
“Teams, I don’t think, have done anything different after we had those first interceptions. I would say maybe the teams we’re playing now are staying away more from throwing as much down the field. Really though, I don’t see that much difference in what (other teams) have been doing.”
Tucker said he likes ULL’s current situation no matter what.
“I’ve thought about where (the Cajuns) were at this time last year (finishing 3-9). I’ve also thought about all we’ve accomplished and what we can still accomplish. I just know it’s a better feeling than it was this time last year,” Tucker said.
Arizona quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo and linebackers coach Garret Chachere have Louisiana roots in their coaching histories.
Scelfo, born in Abbeville and a football player at New Iberia High, has also coached offenses at Tulane and Louisiana Tech.
Hudspeth said he and Chachere were together on the same Nicholls State staff (1995-97) when Chachere coached linebackers there.
Current ULL assistants Mitch Rodriguez (offensive line) and Tim Rebowe (safeties) were also on the same Nicholls staff with Hudspeth and Chachere.