LAFAYETTE — Cancel that slow maturation process for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette defense.
With seven new defensive starters, ULL is apparently shaving the sharp edges off the learning curve, especially when it comes to turnovers.
The Ragin’ Cajuns added three more turnovers to their rapidly growing total Saturday night during a 37-24 Sun Belt Conference victory at Troy.
ULL’s two fumble recoveries and interception give the Cajuns five turnovers in two games. They’re 2-0.
Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth acknowledged the progression of his defense in the victory over the Trojans.
“Defensively, we are learning how to play together,” Hudspeth said following the win.
A turnover converted into a touchdown gave ULL a lead it never relinquished.
That came in the second quarter as ULL used a 56-yard Jemarlous Moten fumble return to move the Cajuns in front 14-7.
Troy coach Larry Blakeney said Moten’s return was crucial.
“That’s a tough, tough chain of events. We’re headed down the field, moving the football pretty good and all of a sudden, bang, bang, it’s the other way,” Blakeney said.
Then, just before the end of the first half, the Cajuns nullified a potential Troy scoring drive on fourth down at the ULL 10.
In the second half, the Cajuns held Troy to 3 points after the Trojans drove deep to ULL’s 16- and 24-yard lines.
Defensive end Emeka Onyenekwu, who played at McKinley High, intercepted Troy quarterback Corey Robinson with 11:44 remaining in the game, and on the next Trojans’ series, Christian Ringo recovered a forced fumble.
The Onyenekwu interception he returned to the Troy 49 led to ULL’s final touchdown, a 3-yard run by Alonzo Harris with 9:14 remaining.
Robinson still threw for 528 yards, two touchdowns and set five Troy passing records.
Hudspeth said his pregame talk explained the theme about defeating Troy for a second straight year.
Victory, Hudspeth said, had everything to do with turnovers.
“We talked about it before the game. I guaranteed our guys that if we won the turnover battle, we win the game. We bent, but we didn’t break at times,” Hudspeth said.
Blakeney said losing the football to the Cajuns played a major part in Troy’s defeat.
“I think we probably shot ourselves in the foot with mistakes, missed assignments and turnovers,” Blakeney said.
Robinson described the Onyenekwu interception, on a shovel pass attempt, a “freak accident.”
“I pitched it to Shawn (Southward) like you saw all night. It was crowded, and (ULL) brought six or seven guys and got us on the call. (Southward) kind of got hit and bobbled it,” Robinson said.
The Cajuns also limited Troy to 60 rushing yards on 27 carries after the Trojans rushed for 262 on Sept. 1 at UAB.
“Basically, we didn’t block them enough,” Blakeney said. “I believe we didn’t quite get it schemed up right, or we didn’t block them fundamentally right. We weren’t doing a lot of different things, so it had to be the team we were playing.”
Hudspeth said the two wins over perennial SBC power Troy doesn’t necessarily elevate the Cajuns to a dominant league power.
“Two years in a row, it’s important to us. We’re just trying to make our mark, and we’re a work in progress. We’re not there yet,” said Hudspeth.
Former Capitol High standout Terrance Broadway replaced ULL quarterback starter Blaine Gautier after Gautier bruised some ribs while scoring on a 10-yard, first quarter touchdown run.
Broadway, a sophomore who transferred from the University of Houston, completed 10 of 16 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
“We knew that Terrance would be ready if needed,” Hudspeth said. “That’s the way he is; he prepares for a game as if he is starting.”
Gautier returned to the sideline after the injury, but did not reenter the game. Hudspeth said Gautier will undergo X-rays to determine the severity of the injury.