Ragin’ Cajuns ramp up practice pressure as camp clock ticks away

The hum blasting through the speakers at the Louisiana-Lafayette football complex Wednesday morning was audible proof that the season is right around the corner.

Wednesday’s practice was roughly the midway point of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ preseason camp, but by next week, they will start implementing game prep for the season opener Aug. 30 against Southern.

“We’re ahead of where we’ve been the past three years in camp,” senior quarterback Terrance Broadway said.

Being ahead of schedule has allowed the Cajuns to turn their focus toward devloping depth and practicing challenging scenarios.

Coach Mark Hudspeth had simulated crowd noise piped in through the speakers at high volume, forcing his players to communicate through duress with hand signals. Only a few weeks remain until UL-Lafayette kicks off its season at home against Southern, and the time has arrived to see how players do in high-pressure situations under game-like conditions.

“Our first two home games we’re going to have 45,000 (in attendance), then we’re going to go on the road to Ole Miss and play in front of 65,000 and then a loud Boise (State) crowd,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got to learn and get good at communicating nonverbally. We haven’t had any problem the last three years, but that’s because we practice with crowd noise so we get really good with our communication skills.”

With the buzzing simulated crowd ever-present in the background, the team ran through multiple pressure scenarios Wednesday, including the two-minute offense and what Hudspeth calls “red field goal” — a do-or-die scenario where there are no timeouts remaining, the clock is running out and a game-winning field goal attempt is the only option.

“You’ve got to make sure you have everything covered,” Hudspeth said.

When the whistle blew an offensive play dead, Hudspeth would scream for the red field goal unit to sprint on the field, get lined up and get off a kick as fast as possible. The players had varied success with the drill, as Hunter Stover missed one field goal wide left and had another blocked by sophomore wideout Jared Johnson.

But the execution is not as important as the repetition at this point in camp, and Hudspeth sounded pleased with the work his team got in Wednesday.

“We got a lot of situations covered today and we’ll continue to work those, because all those situations will come up,” Hudspeth said. “They did last year, and we were very effective.”

The two-minute offense looked sharp, though it was largely the second-string skill players running with the first-team offense.

While he knows his experienced players need reps, Hudspeth has been cautious about how much he uses senior stars like Broadway, wide receiver Jamal Robinson and running back Alonzo Harris. Robinson has had to deal with some hamstring tightness the last few days.

“I don’t need to see them scrimmage 60 plays out there and risk an injury senior year,” Hudspeth said. “We want to get those racehorses to the starting line for that first game. If we do that I think we’ll have a chance to be successful.

“The key is developing depth behind them. That’s the thing we’re stressing right now.”

With multiple established players watching from the sidelines, Hudspeth and the coaches were able to watch how their younger players performed under pressure. The players have another couple days to make their mark, but the time is running out quickly.

“We’re trying to really evaluate some guys down the stretch,” Hudspeth said. “After (Saturday’s scrimmage), we’ll be in the Southern game plan and a lot of guys will be going to scout team. This is the last chance for them to show us what they can do.”