LAFAYETTE — A conference game against Florida International might be the perfect chance for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team to recapture its momentum, quarterback Blaine Gautier said.
FIU, the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference title, visits Cajun Field at 6 p.m. Saturday to play ULL, which is in recovery mode following a 41-point loss at Oklahoma State.
“What better time to come back to Cajun Field and play a very hungry FIU team after a loss. They are going to come in here, really eager to get back on it,” Gautier said.
There also might be some anxious desire by ULL after an open date that followed a 65-24 loss to the Cowboys on Sept. 15.
It’s the Sun Belt opener for FIU (1-3), which is coming off a 28-21 loss to No. 18 Louisville.
“We have something to prove by coming out with a good showing,” Gautier said. “FIU is a big-time game, since they are the preseason No. 1 in the conference and it’s their first Sun Belt game.”
Gautier said the open date helped him recover from a rib injury, and aided the Cajuns (2-1, 1-0) in refocusing what it did wrong the first three weeks .
“We used the past week to gain over confidence and we went back to the drawing board. We wanted to come back fresh,” he said.
Offensively, the Cajuns need to improve on third down, where they have converted on 17 of 40 attempts (42.5 percent).
“We have to turn around those three-and-outs,” Gautier said. “Then, we have to concentrate on putting the ball in the hands of the players who can make plays. We have to get our rhythm back on offense.”
ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said the offense has worked on correcting some of the issues that affected the performance at OSU.
“On offense we didn’t play with a good tempo early,” Hudspeth said. “Then, we had to slow the tempo down in order to prevent the game from getting out of hand.”
FIU’s 1-3 record is partly a reflection of the Panthers’ opponents, Hudspeth said.
FIU lost to Duke 46-26 in the opener before beating Akron 41-38 in overtime. The Panthers then fell 33-20 to Central Florida before losing to No. 18 Louisville 28-21 last Saturday.
One matchup to watch will be ULL’s offensive line against FIU’s defensive front.
Preseason All-SBC choices dot the FIU defensive front in linemen Tourek Williams and Isarne Faciane. They are backed by standout linebacker Winston Fraser and star defensive back Jonathan Cyprien.
“Florida International has a dynamic and very active defensive line, and their linebackers run to the ball and are very physical,” Hudspeth said. “We need to try to run the ball better, and try to become physical.”
On defense, the Cajuns are preparing for at least two quarterbacks.
One is projected starter Jake Medlock, a sophomore who has thrown for 827 yards but suffered a fractured foot in last week’s game. Another quarterback weapon is redshirt freshman E.J. Hilliard, who played in the second half against Louisville and completed nine of 10 passes. Lorenzo Hammond, another redshirt freshman, is listed as the backup quarterback behind Medlock.
ULL place-kicker/punter Brett Baer is heading toward NCAA history. Baer has made 33 of 36 career field-goal attempts, which percentage-wise is ahead of all-time NCAA field-goal accuracy leader Bobby Raymond of Florida State, who made 43 of 49 attempts from 1983-84.
Baer needs nine more attempts this season to qualify for the NCAA career minimum of 45.