One of the goals of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s open-date football weekend was to heal up some nagging injuries, and Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said that was accomplished in a big way.
The Cajuns returned to practice Sunday night after taking two days off, and several players who saw limited or no action in the 44-17 home win over Northwestern State on Sept. 12 were back on the field for the first time.
That group included quarterback Jalen Nixon, safety T. J. Worthy, defensive lineman Chris Prater and wide receiver Al Riles, all of whom started or saw extensive action in the opener at Kentucky.
“Everybody for the most part who’s contributed in our first two games is healthy,” Hudspeth said. “It’s going to be a big plus, because we missed quite a few of those guys in our last game.”
The Sunday night workout was the first in preparation for Saturday’s 6 p.m. home contest against Akron (1-2), an easy 52-9 winner over FCS member Savannah State on Saturday. The Cajuns held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday practices last week and returned Sunday for practice and to finish a nearly final move into the new Athletic Performance Center.
“It was a very productive week,” Hudspeth said. “We got some extra work in, got some extra time in the classroom and caught up on some assignments with the open date, had a chance to get more healthy. And moving into the new facility was a big shot in the arm.”
Hudspeth said last week’s workouts included focus on the defense, which he described as “bent but didn’t break” in the Northwestern State win. UL-Lafayette allowed 234 rushing yards to the Demons but held them on downs three times in four second-half possessions in Cajuns territory.
“We were able to go back and continue fundamentals,” he said. “Defensively, it’s a new scheme, and that allowed us to go back and look at the first two games; This is where we were, let’s assess and then let’s move forward and see how we can improve, see things we like, make sure we have guys in the right positions. All of that went into play. The extra work was huge.”
The Cajuns will still be without the services of backup running back Effrem Reed (shin) and linebacker Darzil Washington (shoulder) for Saturday’s Akron game. Cornerback Simeon Thomas also remains sidelined pending eligibility issues.
“He’s still a guy that’s week to week,” Hudspeth said of Reed. “The game plan all along was to have him back for Louisiana Tech (next week’s road opponent).”
Hudspeth said that Washington, who was hurt early in the Kentucky opener, made progress during the open week.
“He may be a little ahead of the curve right now,” Hudspeth said. “But we still don’t have a firm date for having him back.”
Robinson coming on
Senior wide receiver Jamal Robinson was held to two catches against Northwestern State, mostly because the Cajuns attempted only nine passes and completed seven. One of those, though, was a 58-yarder that set up a touchdown, after he had six grabs for 61 yards against Kentucky.
“Jamal was better in Game 2 than he was in Game 1, and he’ll be better in Game 3,” Hudspeth said.
Robinson missed the last half of 2014 and all of spring drills with a knee injury. He was also held out of most contact drills during preseason practice.
“When you do that, you’ve got to get used to being tackled and people hitting you in the face,” Hudspeth said. “When he gets that swagger back, he’s going to be tough to stop. You’ve got to get back in there and get your feet wet a little, but he’s making a lot of good progress. He’s going to hit his stride.”
Robinson had a stellar game in the Cajuns’ 35-30 win at Akron in 2013 with a career-high eight catches for 124 yards and two scores. He needs 42 yards to become the sixth Cajun to reach 2,000 career receiving yards.
Hudspeth wasn’t far away from college football during his team’s Saturday open date, and he caught parts of several televised games.
“I watched quite a bit,” he said at the end of Monday’s news gathering. “That was fun getting to see some other games, watch some old friends and watch their teams, and do a little Monday morning quarterbacking like you guys do. I figured out, it’s a lot easier to make the call after the play’s over. I made a lot of good calls there Saturday.”
UL-Lafayette is one of four Sun Belt Conference teams facing peer-conference opponents from the Group of Five this weekend. In addition to the Cajuns against Mid-American Conference member Akron, Appalachian State visits Conference USA member Old Dominion, Arkansas State goes to MAC member Toledo, and Texas State visits American Athletic member Houston.
“For your conference rankings at the end of the year, head-to-head against other conferences, the Group of Five is ranked one to five just like the Power Five is ranked one to five,” Hudspeth said. “The Sun Belt’s success outside the conference will determine where we’re ranked as a conference at the end. There are things riding on it, so we want to do well when we play out of conference.”
The Cajuns are 12-9 all-time against current MAC members. The Sun Belt has a 9-8 mark over nonconference opponents over the past two weeks. But as a league, the Sun Belt is 0-13 against the Power Five and 2-4 against the Group of Five this season.
Akron was last among the nation’s 127 FBS teams in scoring through two games before putting up 52 points against Savannah State. The Zips moved up to 114th (20.7) but are still last nationally in pass completion percentage (38.3 percent) ... The Cajuns are ninth nationally in team rushing, averaging 303.5 yards per game, and 22nd nationally in total offense (513.0) ... Both coaching staffs will wear “Coach to Cure MD” patches Saturday as part of the American Football Coaches Association’s program to raise awareness and funding for Duchene muscular dystrophy research. Fans may donate online at www.CoachtoCure MD.org or donate $5 by texting CURE to 90999.