LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth is emphatic that his offense must avoid letting the red zone become a dead zone when the Cajuns visit Sun Belt Conference opponent Troy on Saturday night in Troy, Ala.
Hudspeth said ULL can’t continue allowing potential scoring drives to dissipate without touchdowns as they did in last weekend’s season opener against Lamar.
The Cajuns got 12 of their 40 points off field goals in the shutout of Lamar. That’s something Hudspeth said bothers him as ULL plays an early conference game against an opponent which has dominated the SBC for nearly a decade.
What is particularly troubling for Hudspeth is the Cajuns defense set the table for the offense with four Lamar turnovers that were returned inside the Cardinals’ 35-yard line.
“Our performance in the red zone was somewhat poor. When you look at the field position the defense gave us, we should have come away with more points,” Hudspeth said. “Not many times do you get the ball handed to you inside the 35 in one half alone.
“In order to play Troy, we have to do a lot of things better, liking scoring touchdowns when we’re down in the red zone,” Hudspeth said.
Hudspeth’s criticism of the offense also extended to senior quarterback Blaine Gautier, who passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Gautier, Hudspeth said, needs to become more disciplined, especially when he’s retreating to throw.
“Last year I thought Blaine was relaxed and poised in the pocket. (Against Lamar) he was out of the pocket and sliding around a lot and he even hurt his protection by moving,” he said.
Troy, which won a conference title five straight years from 2006-2010, was defeated by ULL 31-17 at Cajun Field last season.
Troy finished an uncharacteristic 3-7, marking its third losing season since 2002.
Hudspeth said Troy probably hasn’t forgotten about last season’s loss to ULL, a team the Trojans outscored 217-117 from 2006-2010.
“I’m sure they remember what happened (last season),” Hudspeth said. “Joe Frazier, the great professional fighter, said once the punch that knocks you down is the one you didn’t see coming. I’m sure that was the case (for Troy) last year.
“They hadn’t had trouble with us in the past, and they come over and we were able to come away with a hard-fought win. I know one thing. We will have to execute at a higher level than we did last week.”
Larry Blakeney, Troy’s coach for the past 22 seasons, said the Cajuns are playing at a higher level than in past years.
“(ULL) was championship caliber in the Sun Belt last year and did a great job,” Blakeney said. “Mark Hudspeth is a high-energy guy that is a smart football coach.
“They got us down there last year and we helped them a little bit, but they got us. We didn’t get it done, but we’ve been able to get it done against them over a period of time.”
Hudspeth said the early start of conference play along with Troy’s first home game of the season at Veteran Memorial Stadium, will bring a “big time college atmosphere to the game.”
“Let me tell you, this week is bigger than anything we’ve had in a few years as far as having good support at the game,” Blakeney said.
The Cajuns have defeated Troy only twice in the last 10 seasons (2005 and 2011) and each time ULL established a milestone by the end of that year. In 2005 the Cajuns beat Troy and tied for a conference championship. Last year ULL finished 9-4, a record that included a New Orleans Bowl victory over San Diego State. ... ULL has four Alabama natives on its roster. Starters include inside linebacker Justin Anderson (Foley) and running back Alonzo Harris. Safety T.J. Worthy, originally an Ole Miss signee, played at the same high school (Gadsden) as Harris. Also listed from Alabama on ULL’s roster is freshman running back Marcus Jackson (Goshen) and freshman offensive lineman Jeremy Sparks (Daphne). ... Troy backup quarterback Deon Anthony is from New Iberia, and starting WR Eric Thomas played at Shreveport’s Evangel Christian.