Foreign Feeling For Hudspeth’s Cajuns
By Dan McDonald, McD Media/ Special to Sports Radio ESPN 1420
The memorable character from the original “Seinfeld” comedy series could have been talking – or, more correctly, yelling – at UL’s football team when he uttered his most famous line.
By the time Saturday afternoon ended on an unseasonably pleasant weather day in Boone, N.C., the Ragin’ Cajuns had grasped the concept of “No soup for you!” in a most realistic way.
After four years of bowl-game enjoyment, a stretch that followed 41 years of major-college football play without a postseason opportunity, the Cajuns saw their final chances at another bowl trip fade into the approaching sunset.
Saturday’s 28-7 loss at Appalachian State left the Cajuns at 4-7, and with no chance to reach the required six wins in order to achieve bowl eligibility.
“It’s tough for these seniors,” said Cajun quarterback Brooks Haack after the loss. “I really feel for them. But we can’t worry about that too much. We’ve got to worry about Troy and going back to work.
UL entered the final three weeks of the season needing to win two out of three to get to the magic 6-6 mark, one that (with how games and records have fallen together across the country) would have mathematically guaranteed a bowl berth. That was very doable, with home games against struggling New Mexico State and Troy surrounding the road outing at an Appalachian State team that is likely the Sun Belt Conference’s best squad.
But a stunning 37-34 loss to NMSU’s Aggies one week ago put UL in a must-win situation in the final two games, and the Mountaineers were too much of a hurdle on Saturday.
That leaves next Saturday’s home finale against Troy’s Trojans without meaning as it relates to postseason action. In fact, the Dec. 5 game will be the first the Cajuns have played in coach Mark Hudspeth’s five years that has no significant impact on the season ... no winning record, no conference contention, no postseason placement. About all that’s riding on Saturday, except for pride, is the chance to finish with a break-even Sun Belt record (currently 3-4) and to tie for fourth in the league standings.
“This year has not gone the way you wanted it to go,” Hudspeth said to local media after Saturday’s game. “Some years it happens this way, unfortunately. We’ve learned a lot about this team, learned a lot about the things we do well and we’ve also learned a lot about the deficiencies that we’ve got to address.”
What the Cajuns did well against the Mountaineers was defend pretty well, despite the three-touchdown difference. A UL defense that was maligned for good reason one week earlier after New Mexico State had way too much offensive success came up with a solid effort against an App State squad that ranked among the nation’s leaders in efficiency.
Yes, the Mountaineers had 25 first downs and were 8-of-12 on third-down conversions, but the Cajuns limited big plays and would have had much to brag about defensively had the offensive unit been able to sustain drives and not get blanked until the game’s final minute.
“You don’t feel good about it because you feel like your defense played good enough to win,” Hudspeth said. “You’re talking about a team that’s averaging 40 points a game almost. And for the most part it was a 21-point game.”
The Cajun offense, one that had showed some consistency in stretches over the previous three weeks, was punchless all day. That unit’s 10 drives: punt, punt, punt, punt and missed field goal in the first half; punt, punt, punt, punt and a 75-yard touchdown march on its final possession in the second half.
“We’d get a good drive going,” said Haack, who was 13-of-22 for 128 yards passing, and something would happen here or there and wed just get stuffed.”
Haack was sacked six times, and a patchwork UL offensive front was also unable to open holes for a running game that totaled 42 net yards, 104 gained and the rest lost on sacks and tackles for minus yardage.
If there was a bright spot, it was that the Cajuns didn’t turn the ball over, and recovered a pair of App State fumbles. That continued a late-season trend in which UL has only five turnovers in the last seven games and hasn’t lost a fumble since the fourth game of the season. Ironically, in a season that has been filled with struggles, no Cajun running back has lost a fumble from scrimmage all season.
That was small consolation, and Hudspeth did an admirable job of containing his frustration.
“Their players aren’t better than ours,” he said following the game. “They’ve got good players, don’t get me wrong there. We’ve got good players, too. I thought they got the better of us scheme-wise, and some of that was breakdowns and fundamentals. That’s two years in a row I felt they outschemed us. We’ve got to do a better job.”
The Cajun coach could have been referencing future seasons, but he was also pointing at next Saturday’s finale.
“We want to send our seniors out with a win,” he said. “This senior class has never lost to Troy They want to finish with a win.”