LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team is 2-0 for only the second time since 1990. And the reason, according to Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, is defense and special teams.
That’s a surprise, considering the Cajuns offense was notable for its potency in the second half of 2011’s 9-4 and bowl-winning season and had nine starters returning.
It’s also a surprise, considering that Troy’s Trojans rolled up 34 first downs, more than doubling up the Cajuns, and had 528 passing yards in Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference opener. Even with those figures, ULL took a 37-24 road victory, and it was only that close because the hosts tallied a meaningless touchdown with 3:12 left.
“Teams that throw it like Troy does, they’re going to get completions,” Hudspeth said. “For them, it’s just like other teams handing the ball off. The key is keeping them in front of you and not letting them have the big play.”
The Trojans had big numbers in completing 50 of 75 passes and setting four school offensive records. But the Cajuns also stopped Troy on both of its fourth-down tries — both in ULL territory — and forced three turnovers. One of those turned into a 56-yard fumble return by cornerback Jemarlous Moten for a touchdown that keyed a run of 20 unanswered points in the first half.
“That’s just effort by the guys that are getting the ball out,” said senior linebacker Le’Marcus Gibson, who has five solo tackles in ULL’s two wins. “We know, if we get turnovers, we should win. But we missed a lot of tackles ... I probably missed four or five, and we may have missed 30 as a team.”
The Cajuns, who began preparations for Saturday’s 11 a.m. contest at Oklahoma State on Sunday, rank second nationally with a plus-3.0 turnover margin. Moten’s TD return, the third of his two-year career, gives ULL nine defensive touchdowns in their 15 games under Hudspeth.
“We missed some tackles,” Hudspeth said, “but a lot of that was probably because of how many plays they (the defense) were out there for. We’ve got to do a better job of subbing some other guys in.”
Troy, which lost its home opener for the first time in a quarter-century, ran more plays than any opponent in Cajuns history (102).
The Trojans, however, were forced into a lot of snaps. Of Troy’s 15 possessions, all but one started in its own territory and the other began at the ULL 47-yard line. The Trojans had drives of 66, 62, 54, 49, 48 and 46 yards that yielded no points, and their average start point for those drives was their own 20 — well inside the new 25-yard-line start on touchbacks.
Hudspeth gave ULL’s special teams, particularly punter/kicker Brett Baer, credit for much of that. The senior not only hit three more field goals, setting a Sun Belt record with his 18th straight success, but punted for a 43.3 average with a long of 69 and held Troy to a 17.7 average on kickoff returns.
“To me, he’s the top kicker in the country,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a huge weapon for us. I’ve coached a lot of good ones, but never one that can do it all like Brett.”