LAFAYETTE — Hoarseness didn’t keep Mark Hudspeth from being vocally explicit Monday about the high expectations this season for his University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team.
Hudspeth said he embraces the notion that ULL is expected to perform at higher standards than previously.
“Why would you not want high expectations? If you don’t want high expectations, you don’t want to compete at a high level. You want to compete for a championship,“ Hudspeth said after the Cajuns’ first workout of the preseason.
Expectations as well as challenges face ULL this year, Hudspeth said as he met with reporters during the Cajuns’ annual media day held at the Alumni House on campus.
After guiding ULL to an 18-8 overall record and two New Orleans Bowl victories in as many seasons, Hudspeth realizes the bar is being elevated for his program.
The Cajuns were picked in preseason by the Sun Belt Conference coaches to share the conference title with the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
A league championship is the one goal that has eluded the Cajuns under Hudspeth’s direction.
Hudspeth said there are some obvious challenges to achieving a league championship and the increasing expectations.
One obstacle is an unbalanced schedule that includes playing five road games on the first seven playing dates.
Hudspeth said the Cajuns also have to contend with playing a pair of Tuesday night games against SBC opponents and another league game at Troy on a Thursday night.
“This is one of the toughest schedules I’ve ever been a part of. I say that as it all starts with five of the first seven games on the road.
“We have two open dates, the two Tuesday night games (consecutively at Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, the Thursday game, and a long schedule that doesn’t end until Dec. 7 (at South Alabama).
“I’m anxious to see if we can keep that tunnel vision that keeps us focused with one game at a time. In order to do that, we need critical leadership,” Hudspeth said.
Then there’s the issue of opening the season at Southeastern Conference opponent Arkansas on Aug. 31.
Although the Razorbacks finished 4-8 in 2012, Hudspeth said the Arkansas program has renewed enthusiasm under first year coach Bert Bielema.
“They are going to feed off (Bielema’s) mentality. It’s going to be a challenge for our team, but who doesn’t like a great challenge?
“We’re going to play (Arkansas) in a tough venue on national TV. Like last year at Florida, it’s going to be another measuring stick to see if we are making progress,“ Hudspeth said.
Hudspeth said continued improvement and confronting the challenges will be met with a defense that he felt surrendered too many yards last year, especially in the passing game.
To correct that problem, Hudspeth hired James Willis as defensive coordinator.
Willis last coached college football at Texas Tech, and Hudspeth said he likes the mindset that Willis has brought since being hired in February.
Willis has brought high level work ethic to the defense, said Hudspeth.
“He is very detailed with his approach. I know the defense has already met more times than we met as an entire defense last season,” Hudspeth said.
Willis told the media gathering that during his spring football introduction at ULL, he was mainly interested in reconstructing a secondary that lost two key starters.
“We moved guys around and moved the pieces around and addressed that (secondary) need with the recruiting class. There’s not much experience on defense right now,” Willis said.
The opposite is apparently true with ULL’s offense.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said moving the football begins with quarterback Terrance Broadway, who has been named to several national preseason watch lists.
Johnson also wasn’t shy about touting experience and talent at the other offensive positions.
Retaining offensive possessions and converting on third downs are areas that need improvement.
“Taking care of the football is the focus of this program. On third down conversions, we have been only average. We need to keep the defense off the field more and get into the end zone,” Johnson said.
Hudspeth said his lowered voice tone was probably caused by his exuberance over the first morning of practice.
Hudspeth said he was encouraged by the performance of two defensive backs: Sean Thomas and Javante Watson, who are both competing for starting roles.
Thomas is a junior from New Orleans (St. Augustine), while Watson, a sophomore, played at Bastrop High.
Back in action
The Cajuns have four players who are returning after ACL surgeries last year.
One is sophomore speed back Montrel Carter (Cecilia High). Linebacker Jake Molbert (Notre Dame-Crowley) is returning after tearing a left ACL in the final regular season game against South Alabama.
Other knee injury returnees are running back Marcus Jackson (Goshen High, Ala.) and receiver LeMarcus Allen (New Iberia High).