LAFAYETTE — It took a little while, but Louisiana-Lafayette junior linebacker Otha Peters is starting to assert himself — at least on the stat sheet, that is.
Peters recorded a career-high 13 tackles in last week’s game against South Alabama. During a game in which the Ragin’ Cajuns struggled as a unit to make tackles, Peters was a constant force, flying around the field, blowing up a couple of passes in the flat that could’ve gone for big gains.
It continued a recent string of solid games for the Arkansas transfer, who has 37 tackles in his past four games after posting just 16 stops in his first five games.
“Sitting out that whole last year, I kind of had to get a feeling for the speed of the game,” Peters said. “These past couple weeks, coaches have been saying I’m really productive on the field. I want to keep that going these next three weeks, and hopefully four weeks.”
Peters still earned praise from coaches, privately and through media, for being where he was supposed to be and doing his job early this season despite the numbers not being there.
But the measurable production has been somewhat of a relief for Peters.
“It’s not too easy, because even though you’re doing your job, you feel like you can do more,” Peters said. “Sometimes, the tackles don’t come your way. If you have 11 guys running to the ball, you’re not going to leave every game with 10-12 tackles.”
Coming on strong
Another defensive player who has picked up his game of late is Darzil Washington, who has forced his way onto the field after recovering from a separated shoulder that cost him most of four games earlier this season (he played just eight snaps in his first game back).
In his last two games, Washington has seven tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. He also had a near sack that forced South Alabama quarterback Cody Clements to throw an interception that Savion Brown returned 85 yards for a score.
“You’re seeing what we missed the first five games of the year with that pass rush,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Just like the interception he caused at South Alabama, that was all on him. The guy fluttered it up, we picked it and take it for six. He’s playing at a high level.
Watson to start at safety
The Cajuns ever-shifting defensive secondary will likely have another new look Saturday against New Mexico State.
Jevante Watson, who started the first seven games of the season at cornerback, will line up opposite Tracy Walker at boundary safety Saturday.
“He’s been playing really well at the corner when he’s been in the game,” Hudspeth said. “So he’s going to get some reps at the boundary safety.”
Hudspeth said Watson will probably start, and if that happens it’ll mean the Cajuns will have used nine different combinations in their starting secondary this season.
Despite the high degree of turnover, whether because of on-field play or injury, the Cajuns have been relatively successful in pass coverage, especially lately — though the yardage numbers don’t necessarily support it.
“We’ve got some guys in the secondary playing really well right now,” Hudspeth said. “That’s been one positive on the defensive side of the ball. They’re playing pretty good.”
Left guard Grant Horst, who did not travel to the South Alabama game after suffering a concussion, has been cleared by team doctors to return, but he will not start Saturday. Donovan Williams and Adrian Goodacre will likely start at the guard positions.
The Cajuns will be without freshman wide receiver Keenan Barnes as well as linebackers Trey Granier and Tyren Alexander.
Hudspeth said Devin Scott will back up Gabe Fuselier and Jamal Robinson, while Tre’Maine Lightfoot and T.J. Posey will back up the middle linebacker spots.
Military Appreciation Day
With Saturday serving as the Cajuns’ first home game since Veterans Day, the university will honor those who served in the military at Cajun Field against New Mexico State.
The Cajuns will also offer $12 tickets to fans with military identification, and the game will feature various tributes as well as a “patriotic halftime fireworks show,” according to a news release.