LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team learned an expensive lesson very inexpensively two weeks ago.
That’s why there’s not much chance the Ragin’ Cajuns will be taking anything for granted at the Georgia Dome Saturday, when they face a winless Georgia State team in its first year in the Sun Belt Conerence.
“We’re not going to make the same mistake twice,” sophomore defensive tackle Chris Prater said. “We’re not going to underestimate anybody. It’s important that over these last three games that we approach them with a humbleness, not be arrogant, because there’s still work to be done to make a win happen.”
The Cajuns (7-2, 4-0 Sun Belt) last faced a team with a similar record at Georgia State (0-9, 0-4) only nine days earlier, when a 1-7 New Mexico State team came to Cajun Field and jumped in front 28-7 midway through the second quarter. Although Louisiana-Lafayette rallied for a 49-35 win, Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said that win will help this week.
“You know it’s in the back of their minds,” Hudspeth said at his Monday media briefing. “We had come off two really big games and had New Mexico State right before Troy, and we didn’t start very well. I hope that can be another lesson learned.”
Other than the memories of that game, there are several factors that should motivate the Cajuns in their first meeting with Georgia State.
The Cajuns have three games remaining, all of them Sun Belt contests, and wins in any two of the three will assure no worse than a share of the league title. Two wins plus an Arkansas State loss, or a sweep of the three remaining games, would give the Cajuns the outright crown — a first non-shared league title for the program since the 1970 season when they won the Southland Conference.
A win in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game would also tie UL-Lafayette’s school record for consecutive wins, matching the eight in a row the Cajuns won in 1976, as well as making them a more attractive bowl selection. Representatives of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile were at Thursday’s pulsating 41-36 victory over Troy, and both bowls are coveting Louisiana-Lafayette after the Cajuns helped set attendance records at the New Orleans Bowl in each of the past two years.
In past seasons, the New Orleans Bowl has been forced to take the Sun Belt champion or make certain the league champ is accommodated in a bowl game before selecting another team. Under the bowl’s new contract with the league, the Crescent City game can select any bowl-eligible Sun Belt team.
Hudspeth and Cajuns players deferred bowl talk on Monday.
“We’re just focusing on the next game, and that’s Georgia State,” said senior wide receiver Darryl Surgent, the Sun Belt’s Special Teams Player of the Week after a punt return touchdown against Troy. “Going there (New Orleans), we’ve had an unbelievable turnout, but wherever we go we’ll be thankful and we’ll be just as excited.”
“Something fresh would be exciting,” Prater said, “but we do it for the fans. If our fans want to go to the New Orleans Bowl, then we want to go there. The atmosphere there is just amazing. I’ll be happy either way.”
Hudspeth also deferred talk about a scenario where the Cajuns meet likely MAC champion and top-20 squad Northern Illinois in the GoDaddy Bowl. The Mobile bowl gets the MAC winner, but NIU has a shot at a BCS bowl if it runs the table.
“We want to play the best team we can,” Hudspeth said, “but first we have to get to a bowl game. That’s our number three goal. The first is to win every home game and we’re one away from that (UL-Lafayette hosts ULM on Nov. 30), and second is to win the conference.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get to a bowl game, we’d like to play against the best we can possibly play. I don’t know any competitor that doesn’t want that. The New Orleans Bowl has been very good to us and our fans enjoy going there, but whichever bowl is the best for our program, that’s the bowl I want to go to. But we’ve got a lot of football left to play.”
Georgia State opened Sun Belt play with a last-minute seven-point loss to Troy, and Hudspeth said he’s already reminded his team that the Trojans were four yards away from snapping the Cajuns’ win streak last Thursday.
“They (GSU) hasn’t had a lot of success in the win column,” he said, “but they have enough weapons that if you’re not ready, they’ll beat you.”
Freshman running back Elijah McGuire led the Cajuns with 82 yards rushing and one score on only eight carries against Troy. He leads the nation this week in average per carry (9.0) among rushers with the NCAA-minimum 6.25 carries per game ... UL-Lafayette received seven votes in this week’s USA Today Coaches Poll and one vote in the Harris Interactive Poll, the two polls that are part of the BCS formula. The seven votes in the coaches poll was good for 30th place ... The Cajun senior class now holds the distinction of the winningest in school history, with that group posting 28 victories in three years and through nine games this year ... Hudspeth currently ranks fifth among active FBS coaches in career winning percentage (.746, 91-31).