LAFAYETTE — Despite the fact that he had yet to play a down this season, senior running back Effrem Reed asked coach Mark Hudspeth if he could address the team in the visiting locker room after Louisiana Tech dismantled Louisiana-Lafayette 43-14 last week.
Hudspeth gave way, and Reed took the floor to remind the team that in spite of the way things played out in the first four games, it didn’t expect to be in this position for a reason.
“I just wanted to let them know to stay confident, stay the course,” Reed said. “We have a really good football team.”
A little recent history could prove Reed’s point.
Just like last year, Louisiana-Lafayette is off to a 1-3 start. Just like last year, it took that 1-3 start for the leadership to start identifying itself and reintroduce the confidence that had fallen off.
“Sometimes you want it before these situations occur, but better late than never,” Hudspeth said. “It was good to see.”
The team started to turn things around last season after seniors Christian Ringo and Terrance Broadway called a players-only meeting to discuss the remainder of the year.
“Those guys told everybody we’ve got to get back to Ragin’ Cajuns football,” said junior running back Elijah McGuire. “From that point on it just hit everybody to get that mentality back of the way we’re used to playing. We’ve just got to get on a roll.”
Confidence is a fragile thing on a college football team. Too much of it can lead to a disastrous disappointment (see: Louisiana Tech, 2014). Too little of it can cause a team to doubt itself and play scared. The Cajuns are trying to find that Goldilocks zone, and the Sun Belt Conference served it up just right last season.
Its worth noting that the Cajuns’ caliber of competition starkly dropped off in 2014 after losing to Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Boise State last season. But immediately following the spirited message from Ringo and Broadway, everything that had been going wrong turned around on a dime in a way one wouldn’t have expected from watching the Cajuns in the first four games.
The offense that averaged 326 yards and 14.7 points per game in those three early season losses bumped those averages up to 437 yards and 32.7 points per game in the final nine contests. It also only turned the ball over four times in the final nine weeks after 10 in the first four games.
The defense that gave up 46 points and 529 yards per game in that three-game skid trimmed those numbers to 21.6 points and 379 yards over the remainder of the season, including a beauty of a performance in the New Orleans Bowl where it limited Nevada to three points and 213 yards.
Beyond the identical records, this year’s statistics look remarkably similar to last year’s through four games. The Cajuns are giving up 33.8 points per game (down from 36 a year ago), are scoring 26.3 (up from 22.3 a year ago) and they have one of the worst turnover margins in college football at minus-8 (it was minus-9 a year ago).
Things are bad, but they were bad last year. The Cajuns players are upset with the fact that they’re in almost the exact same position as they were a year ago, but they’ve taken some comfort in the fact that they’ve been in this position before and have emerged from it with success.
“In the past we’ve been 1-3, I hope everybody realizes that (we’ve been in) the same situation and we came back,” Reed said. “We came through conference and stepped our foot on the gas.”
The mantra this time around, just like last year, is that the Cajuns are about to embark on a new season. Don’t worry about the early results, and don’t worry about what the team has to do to dig itself out of the hole it put itself in. The message from Reed, just as it was with Ringo and Broadway last year: don’t lose confidence and play the way you’re capable of playing.
“The games we played in the past couple weeks don’t affect us as much as these conference games do,” Reed said. “Although we did want to win, now we’re 0-0 with a fresh start.
“Now let’s go try to get 1-0. That’s the goal.”