LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette football squad won’t be feeling sorry for itself this week despite its 0-2 start, coach Mark Hudspeth said.
His Ragin’ Cajuns also won’t assume anything for their Saturday home opener, especially since Nicholls State will come into Cajun Field with more wins than his squad.
“We don’t have time to mope,” Hudspeth said Monday. “We are by no means going to allow anyone to sit around and mope and question one another. We’ve played two very tough opponents, maybe two of the toughest openers of anybody in the country. We didn’t get any warm-up games like some other teams play, and we played them on the road.”
The Cajuns did open with likely one of the Southeastern Conference’s most improved teams (a 34-14 loss at Arkansas) and the defending Big 12 Conference champions (Saturday’s 48-27 loss at Kansas State). But after falling behind 20-3 at halftime and 34-3 five minutes into the second half thanks to two special teams lapses, Hudspeth said he was proud of his team battling back to a two-touchdown difference (41-27) with 11 minutes left.
“It was definitely a tale of two halves,” he said. “I thought we made tremendous strides from week one. The secondary did a much better job of keeping everybody in front of them and making (Kansas State) drive the length of the field. We’ve got to tackle better, but without the mistakes we made they get 27 points, and when you hold that team to 27 points, you have to score enough to win the game.”
The Cajun offense was ineffective in the first half, going without a third down conversion and getting only five first downs, but the offense came alive after Darryl Surgent’s school-record 100-yard kickoff return score and had seven third-down conversions and 260 offensive yards after halftime.
“We didn’t start well,” said senior tight end Ian Thompson, who had two catches against the Wildcats. “We had trouble getting in rhythm ... in the second half, we started putting drives together and getting the rhythm we had last year. You can just see that in the second half our tempo was a lot better.”
Special teams — a source of pride for Hudspeth over the Cajuns’ nine-win and bowl-winning seasons of the last two years — gave up two big plays in a five-minute period that resulted in that 34-3 deficit. KSU’s Tramaine Thompson returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a score and later brought a punt back 61 yards to the Louisiana-Lafayette 1 to set up another touchdown. The Wildcats also got an easy one three minutes later when quarterback Terrance Broadway’s pass deflected off Surgent and into linebacker Ty Zimmerman’s hands for a walk-in touchdown.
The Cajuns didn’t help themselves on special teams, either, outside of Surgent’s return and Stephen Brauchle’s two field goals. A second-quarter fake punt was well-executed, except for Jamal Robinson’s dropped pass.
“That set us back,” Hudspeth said. “It was 10-3 at the time, and I’d bet the farm that we take that one in and score. That would have been a nice shot in the arm for us, but instead that gave them the short field and made it 17-3.”
Broadway came back from his slow start, with the Cajuns driving 80, 78 and 61 yards with their last three possessions.
The former Capitol High standout hit 14-of-22 passes for 162 yards and a score and ran for another TD in the second half.
“Sometimes he puts too much on himself,” Thompson said of Broadway. “We had some dropped passes, and we missed some protections. We have to do a lot better job of protecting him in the passing game and in the running game.”
The Cajuns will get a chance to do that in Saturday’s 6 p.m. home opener against a 1-1 Colonel squad that upset FBS member Western Michigan 27-23 on the road Saturday. Nicholls State, a four-touchdown underdog, won despite the loss of its top two quarterbacks before and during the game. Beaux Hebert was out with a concussion from the Colonels’ 66-3 season-opening loss at Oregon, and Kalen Henderson suffered a broken leg in the second quarter against Western Michigan.
Lafayette’s Tuscani Figaro played the rest of the game, rushing for 72 yards and leading second-half drives that resulted in go-ahead field goals. Hebert is expected to be available this week.
“That’s pretty impressive to have that much talent at quarterback,” Hudspeth said of the Colonels. “What they do offensively is tough to defend ... they have a great scheme, a good running back and solid offensive linemen. And Hebert’s a good quarterback. The game comes naturally to him since his father (former New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Bobby Hebert) has been there all his life.”
Hudspeth said Louisiana-Lafayette offense will be more tested during the week, though.
“We just have to put some drives together,” he said. “We can’t have the offense over there on the bench drinking water ... we have to stay on the field and get something going. It looked like it sort of came together for Terrance Saturday, but we have to help him out. He’s a heck of a player and he’s going to break out sooner or later.”
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