LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth admits he’s not sure what to expect from Arkansas on Saturday.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, boasting 18 wins and two bowl victories over the past two seasons, will be taking on an Arkansas team that went 4-8 last season and lost its last four games on the way to a last-place finish in the SEC West Division.
Hudspeth probably wishes he was playing that team, but he knows that’s not happening after the Razorbacks revamped their staff in the off-season and brought in Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema as coach.
“Their team last year, that wasn’t indicative of the way they’ve played up there,” Hudspeth said.
“They’re going to be very well-prepared. Their staff has been successful everywhere they’ve been.”
Hudspeth said that having a new staff is a huge advantage in a season opener.
“Especially with what they did,” he said. “He (Bielema) didn’t bring all his assistants from Wisconsin, they’ve got coaches from different programs, so that uncertainty on both sides of the football causes you to prepare more than you normally would. You’ve got to be very broad in your preparation.”
Bielema’s defensive coordinator Chris Ash was also at Wisconsin, but offensive coordinator Jim Chaney handled those chores at Tennessee last year.
“We’ve been watching Arkansas’ spring game a lot,” said senior linebacker Justin Anderson, the team’s leading tackler with 105 stops last year.
“But we’ve looked at Tennessee as much as we looked at (the Razorbacks’) spring game. We’re trying to put together the similarities so we can be prepared.”
“It’s not going to be as hard as it sounds,” said junior quarterback Terrance Broadway, who returns as the Sun Belt Conference’s leader in passing and total offense after a school-record 3,611-yard season in total yards. “Our defense does a lot of different things, and we work against our defense all during spring and in camp. We know we just have to execute our offense.”
That unit averaged over 35 points per game in last year’s second straight 9-4 season, and Broadway set a handful of records in the New Orleans Bowl in the 43-34 win over East Carolina. Every offensive starter on the two-deep announced at UL-Lafayette’s Monday press luncheon played in at least six games last year, and eight started at least three times.
“Every one of us has been in the system for a couple of years now,” Broadway said. “The guys that haven’t have picked up the offense very well.”
There’s only one true freshman on the two-deep, that being a surprise in backup running back Elijah McGuire of Vandebilt Catholic. McGuire is listed ahead of two players — Effrem Reed and Torrey Pierce — who combined for 677 yards and eight scores last year.
“He (McGuire) has the ability to cut on a dime,” Broadway said. “And he’s picked up the offense quick.”
“He’s a very instinctive runner,” Hudspeth said. “He puts one foot in the ground, changes direction, and he’s gone. He has great balance and doesn’t get knocked off his feet easily, and he can really accelerate through the line of scrimmage.
“You do worry about a freshman if he can take care of the football and pass protect, but that’s any freshman.”
Broadway himself had never started a UL-Lafayette game before last year and didn’t start the first three last season, but he took over when regular Blaine Gautier broke two bones in his throwing hand.
“Hopefully Terrance will continue his improvement this week,” Hudspeth said. “He’s watched more Arkansas film than the coaching staff, and that’s good because we have to be prepared for everything.”
One thing the Cajuns say won’t be a factor is crowd noise from Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, which begins its 75th year and will likely be at its listed 72,000 capacity for Saturday’s 3 p.m. game.
“We have the experience of playing at Florida last year (a final-play 27-20 loss to the then-seventh-ranked Gators),” Anderson said. “We’ve put that behind us. We’re approaching this one like every other game, but it’s good that we have that experience.”
“We’re going into a hostile SEC environment,” Broadway said. “But we’ve experienced that before.”