LAFAYETTE — When University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth sees quicker reaction and less contemplation from his realigned 3-4 defense, then he will perhaps begin to feel more comfortable.
Until then, Hudspeth might witness what he observed on Saturday during a 102-play, scrimmage at Cajun Field — an inconsistent defense that has room for improvement as spring practice enters its final week.
“What we’re doing is a bit different,” Hudspeth said after the scrimmage. “There’s quite a bit of a learning curve, and those guys are right there in the curve. Hopefully by next week, they will come out of the curve and into the straightaway.”
The defense did have its moments, though, winning the goal-line battle against a veteran offensive unit 8-4 during a 12-play series from inside the 3-yard line.
Overall, Hudspeth’s scoring gave the offense a 57-51 victory during the spring’s final scrimmage, which lasted just under two hours.
Hudspeth said the defense hasn’t quite grasped system installed by new defensive coordinator James Willis, who began working at ULL in early February.
“Defensively, we’re not at that point yet where we are just reacting on defense,” Hudspeth said. “We’re still thinking instead of reacting. Offensively, we’re a little bit ahead, but this is our third year in this system.”
Hudspeth said another individual defensive highlight was an 85-yard return by cornerback Jevante Watson of a D’Shaie Landor pass.
Still, Hudspeth is seeking consistency with the defense.
“At times, we make a really good play because we are where we’re supposed to be, with all 11 doing the right job and in the right strength with the right call,” he said.
“Then, we will have a play where we’re not lined up and give up a play. We’ve also got to find a way to tackle better and cause turnovers. That’s been one of the most disappointing things, the lack of turnovers.”
Junior defensive lineman Christian Ringo said mastery of the new defensive system may not occur until preseason practices start in August.
“Until we get everything down pat, we’re going to think a little bit too much, in my opinion, “ Ringo said. “When we do get it down pat, it’s going to work.”
Ringo said Willis’ defense allows more flexibility for the three linemen, since it allows them to move around more.
“Everyone loves (Willis’) style. He brings an intensity and the players can relate to him. We’re being put in position where we are able to make plays,” Ringo said.
Hudspeth said his defensive linemen, especially Ringo, Justin Hamilton and Chris Prater, are having exemplary spring performances.
In the secondary, Hudspeth has likes what he’s seen from safety Trevence Patt and Al-Damion Rials.
Hudspeth said there has been little separation this spring in the competition among three redshirt freshmen to back up starter Terrance Broadway at quarterback.
“The competition between (Landor) and Brooks (Haack) right now is pretty close,” Hudspeth said. “D’Shaie, I thought, has shown at times that he’s ready to step ahead a little bit, but (on Saturday) he gives up a big pick (by Wilson).
“It could probably go on until we start camp in the fall. Maybe that will help both of those guys to work a little harder and keep them both competing.”
Landor scored on an impressive 62-yard run while operating with the No. 2 offensive unit and threw a 42-yard completion to wide receiver Rickey Johnson, a transfer from Tulsa.
Broadway, who became the starting quarterback midway through the 2012 season and guided the Cajuns to a win over East Carolina in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, continues to improve, said Hudspeth.
Broadway, a junior from Capitol High, scored on a 2-yard run.
Other offensive highlights according to Hudspeth were a 34-yard pass reception from quarterback Jalen Nixson to 6-7 redshirt freshman wide receiver Jared Johnson and a 2-yard TD run by former Dutchtown standout Effrem Reed.
Broadway was nearly flawless in his offensive exhibition on Saturday, Hudspeth said.
“Terrance was always consistent, made some nice plays and didn’t turn the ball over one time. He got us lined up in the right plays all morning.
“(Wide receiver) Jamaal Robinson continued to make plays out on the edge, and Jared Johnson made some nice plays. I think we’re showing our quality depth at the receiver position,” Hudspeth said.
The annual Red and White spring game will end spring practice April 20 at 4 p.m.
Hudspeth said the annual event at Cajun Field will feature the first-team offense combined with the number two unit defensively.
On the other side, the starting defense will compete on the same side as the second-team offense.
Practices this week leading up to the spring game won’t necessarily be easy because of the spring game, Hudspeth said.
ULL has two remaining practices (Wednesday and Friday) leading up to the spring game.
“It’s going to be a regular work week,” he said. “We have to keep grinding. After next week, these players will have plenty of time to recover. We’re going to grind that ax down, because we’ve got a lot of sharpening to do.”
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