LAFAYETTE — The calendar said Thursday. Mark Hudspeth said it was Monday. His Louisiana-Lafayette football team is focusing on Tuesday, which it’s calling Saturday.
Welcome to Sun Belt Conference football scheduling, which has the Ragin’ Cajuns playing Arkansas State on Tuesday for the third straight season.
Hudspeth said Thursday at his normally Monday news conference that his team isn’t having any trouble adapting to the change in schedule, with the Cajuns (2-3, 1-0) traveling to Jonesboro, Arkansas, to face the Red Wolves in a primetime contest on ESPN2.
“We had a great Sunday night practice last night,” Hudspeth said, referring to the Cajuns’ Wednesday night session. “The players are off today like they are every Monday, and we’ll come back with our Tuesday practice schedule (Friday).”
The Cajuns have been one of the featured teams in the Sun Belt’s midweek national network games for four straight seasons. They lost Tuesday affairs in 2012 to North Texas and ASU but have since won four straight Tuesday games. Including a Thursday night home win over Troy in 2013, the Cajuns are 5-0 in non-Saturday games in the past three years.
But Hudspeth said the day of the week won’t matter unless UL-Lafayette plays well against the Red Wolves (3-3, 2-0), who beat South Alabama 49-31 this Tuesday.
The host Jaguars led 31-20 with 13 minutes left before ASU scored four unanswered touchdowns, the last two on a fumble recovery in the end zone and an interception return. The second score was also set up on a turnover as the Red Wolves scored 29 points in only 5:17.
“They had the turnovers that got them right back in the game, and they got the momentum,” Hudspeth said. “Momentum is such a big thing. Turnovers, you saw what happens when Jalen (Nixon) goes the distance without balls on the ground, how effective he was in the option when you take care of the football.”
Nixon, in his second start, guided the Cajuns to 526 yards and no turnovers in Saturday’s 49-27 home win over Texas State. UL-Lafayette has had two turnover-free games this year and has won both times.
The extra three days since the Texas State game will help the Cajuns injury-wise. Starting safety T. J. Worthy (hamstring), end/linebacker Darzil Washington (shoulder) and backup running back Effrem Reed (shin) are all expected back at full speed Tuesday, and backup linebacker Tre’maine LIghtfoot (shoulder) is a possibility.
“T.J.’s going to be at full speed for the first time,” Hudspeth said. “Holding him out and making sure he’s 100 percent has helped him. Effrem, we have to find him that role and get him back into it. Right now, Elijah (McGuire) is getting a few more carries, and Torrey (Pierce) is getting the bulk of the load when Elijah’s not in there.”
Defensive back Troy McCollum(ankle) is still sidelined.
Hudspeth said sophomore Grant Horst will start at left guard Tuesday, replacing Mykhael Quave after the senior was lost for the season with a torn rotator cuff in the Louisiana Tech loss two weeks ago. Center Eddie Gordon shifted to left guard and Horst had started at center against Texas State.
“We had two ways we could go,” Hudspeth said. “We tried to put Eddie at guard, and although we were effective, we think we can be way more effective with Eddie at center. He’s got a great base, great movement. Grant’s very solid, and he’s a team player; that’s what I’m most proud of with him.”
Sophomore left tackle D’Aquin Withrow made his first career start against Texas State.
“He played well there,” Hudspeth said. “He got movement across the line, and he was really good at pass protection. Moving forward, that’s the direction we’re going to go.”
Hudspeth said he watched Tuesday’s ASU-South Alabama game, and he was impressed with the return of Red Wolves quarterback Fredi Knighten, who missed three games with a groin injury.
Knighten, the quarterback on the all-Sun Belt preseason team, threw for 119 yards and two scores and carried the ball 20 times for 50 yards.
“I thought he looked dynamic as always,” Hudspeth said. “He can make plays happen, extend plays. He’s always a handful, that’s for sure.”
“He’s fast — very, very fast,” said Cajuns defensive end Blain Winston, who has three tackles for losses and two sacks. “It didn’t look like he’d had an injury. He makes great decisions. We’ve got a tough task on our hands.”
The national stage
Hudspeth said the opportunity to play in the Tuesday game is worth the change in routine, especially with UL-Lafayette not giving up a Saturday home game.
“I’m still a traditionalist,” he said. “I love Saturday afternoon football, and we don’t get much of that. But when you get to play on Tuesday, you get the whole national stage. You’re getting every bar, every restaurant watching your game.
“Thursday night used to be that way, but now you have the NFL on Thursday and two or three college games. There’s too many people you’re competing with. Tuesday night, you get to put your program out there for everyone to see.”