LAFAYETTE — Many impact players who will compete for Louisiana-Lafayette and Akron on Saturday are a transient blend who previously played at junior colleges and other Division I programs.
At both schools, transfers have been equivalent to transformation.
Akron will dress 12 transfers, and ULL has six who will play major roles when the teams meet at 5 p.m. at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio.
ULL offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said the transfers playing for Akron are remaking a team that was 1-11 last season, its first under coach Terry Bowden.
“Looking at Akron this year as opposed to last season, they have five who have transitioned in and are making significant contributions on both sides of the ball,” Johnson said. “Those players have really made a difference.”
Akron made a statement last week when it lost 28-24 at Michigan. Akron drove 71 yards on its final series to the Michigan 4-yard line, but the Zips failed to score.
While Akron (1-2) was obtaining an infusion of confidence, the Cajuns (1-2) rolled up 456 rushing yards in a 70-7 win over Nicholls State in their home opener.
The Akron transfers have especially helped the Zips defensively, with three of the four linemen in their 4-3 scheme listed as starters.
Moses McCray, a 318-pound senior nose tackle, once played for Bowden’s father, Bobby, at Florida State. Senior defensive tackle C.J. James was initially at Colorado State along with tackle Nordly Capi. Nassau County (N.Y.) Community College sophomore transfer Malachi Freeman is a starter at cornerback.
Offensively, transfers are making a difference on the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin transfer Joe McNamara (312 pounds) will start at left guard. At right tackle is 331-pound senior Zenel Demhasaj, who played at Pittsburgh.
The Cajuns have starting quarterback Terrance Broadway, who played in one game during his freshman season at Houston. Senior backup wide receivers Devin Figaro (Tulane) and Ricky Johnson (Tulsa) also are transfers.
Defensively, Ole Miss transfers Darius Barksdale (linebacker) and T.J. Worthy (strong safety) are starters along with cornerback Corey Trim, who came from Jones County (Miss). Community College.
ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said Bowden’s injection of new players is helping.
“I knew (Bowden) was going to really upgrade that program,” Hudspeth said. “He took his lumps last season, probably on purpose because they went out and got some transfers that sat out and this year and now that team is completely different.
“You look at their defensive line, and it’s as active a defensive line as I’ve ever seen.”
Bowden followed Hudspeth after he left Division II North Alabama in 2009 to become an offensive assistant at Mississippi State. Bowden’s three North Alabama teams were 20-9; Hudspeth had a 68-21 record there.
Two acquaintances from Hudspeth’s North Alabama years are playing significant roles on Bowden’s Akron staff. Zips offensive coordinator A.J. Milwee was Hudspeth’s starting quarterback in 2008, and offensive line coach Alan “Tank” Arrington was Hudspeth’s offensive line coach.
Bowden said he learned to respect Hudspeth’s coaching ability after he accepted the job at North Alabama.
“You can tell what type of coach a person is by the type of players that he leaves behind,” he said.
Hudspeth said he has been pleased with the improvement of the Cajuns defense, which was shredded at Arkansas and in the first half against Kansas State to open the season.
“I thought we got much better defensively (against Nicholls),” he said. “I thought we tackled much better and we had fewer missed assignments. Many of the kids we have (defensively) are still not mature as far as their experience. ...
“I think we are going to end up with some nice depth on the defensive line before the year is over.”