Ragin’ Cajuns first at UNT and then host Arkansas State
LAFAYETTE — National television appearances like the one featuring the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and North Texas Tuesday night at Apogee Stadium are rare, especially for two teams playing in the often-overlooked Sun Belt Conference.
For ULL, the 8 p.m. game on ESPN2 is the first of two consecutive Tuesday night games the Cajuns are scheduled to play against a league opponent, but Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said the strange scheduling arrangement is beneficial.
“The juice, I think, in this case is worth the squeeze, considering the national exposure that we’re going to get,” Hudspeth said. “On (Tuesday), we’re the only (football) game on in the country or in our galaxy.”
UNT coach Dan McCarney sees the game with the Cajuns as a chance to showcase relatively new Apogee Stadium for the first time before a large audience.
“We want to make our first impression in Apogee Stadium to be a good first impression,” McCarney said. “I think it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere against an outstanding team.”
The league-leading Cajuns (4-1, 2-0) and UNT (2-4, 1-1) are expected to engage in a physical contest featuring the Mean Green’s power rushing attack against the front seven of the ULL defense.
Hudsepth considers ULL’s defensive line as one of his team’s strengths.
“If you’re a defensive player, you are going to love this type of game,” Hudspeth said. “I expect it to be very physical, and I think that our depth will be a factor on the defensive line, at linebacker and safety.
“We have been playing a lot of defensive linemen, and all of them are playing pretty well right now.”
ULL nose tackle Justin Hamilton has four tackles for losses, with one sack. Defensive tackle Emeka Onyenekwu has 14 tackles, while defensive end Christian Ringo has two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, both sacks.
Hudspeth is also impressed with the performance of sophomore Qyendarius Griffin, who has 27 tackles.
Hudspeth said UNT has changed into a power running team under McCarney, something he feels will cause some adjustments.
“They’re right under center as a power run team that comes right at you and wants to hammer you,” Hudspeth said. “They are very physical up front.
“What makes preparation so difficult is for five weeks you see teams running a spread offense and now you face a team that is different.
“You come in stacking nine men in the box, and then all of a sudden you have them throw a pass on you.”
Brandin Byrd (380 yards) and Antoine Jimmerson (367) are UNT’s top rushers. Quarterback Derek Thompson has thrown for 1,245 yards, after completing 94-of-165 passes.
Brian Chancellor is the top UNT target (25 receptions, 433 yards).
After watching the Cajuns’ games on tape, McCarney said the Cajuns possess all the attributes of a good team.
“They have a plus-eight in the turnover rati,o and they don’t get many penalties,” McCarney said. “They have the best kicker in the country, and they are a very confident football team. They are very physical up front.”
Hudspeth thinks place-kicker/punter Brett Baer and the Cajuns kickoff and punt coverage have played a major role in the Cajuns’ success.
Baer leads the nation in field goals made (12) and the conference in punting (41.7 yard average).
“We are making teams drive the distance, and we are not turning the ball over, so that’s made a big difference in us playing great defense,” Hudspeth said.
North Texas freshman DB Devante Davis, from Woodlawn High, has 13 tackles this season. ... Also seeing action this season as a UNT freshman is LB LaJylin Smith, who played at St. Charles Catholic in LaPlace. ... Freshman RBs Mark Lewis (Livonia) and Jamarcus Jarvis (East Ascension) are also listed on the North Texas roster.