Mark Hudspeth Press Conference: Tulane Game Week [VIDEO]
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns are 2-1 with a chance to be 3-1 heading into their Sun Belt stretch. They already have a conference win under their belt though.
Elijah McGuire got most of the headlines and awards from the victory over South Alabama, and rightfully so, but Al Riles deserves some ink too.
Riles battled an ankle injury the first two weeks, but health was the last thing on his mind against the Jags. It was Riles' birthday, and he set career highs with a 71-yard TD and 139 yards receiving. You would think the 71-yard gallop to the endzone would be his head coach's favorite play, but Hudspeth liked his catch on third down to ice the game even more.
"That really sort of put the fork in the game...that was a veteran throw and catch," Hudspeth said. In terms of Riles' health, Hudspeth loves seeing him back to 100 percent, "He had that different gear, didn't he?"
The passing game is coming along nicely. Riles is only one of the targets for Anthony Jennings, who appears to be settling in nicely wearing the vermilion and white. Even though Jennings tossed his first two interceptions of the season against the Jags, the Ragin' Cajuns still haven't put a ball on the ground.
Only two turnovers through three weeks? Hud will take that every time.
Jennings and his receivers are developing, McGuire is 6th in the FBS in rushing yards, and the defense is starting to get into gear after the dismissal of former Defensive Coordinator Melvin Smith.
For the second straight week since making the tough decision, Hudspeth's defense didn't allow 100 yards rushing. It's amazing how far they're come since week one against Boise State.
Otha Peters and Tre'maine Lightfoot are flying all over the field making plays, and you can see the difference in the stat sheet.
"I think our linebackers are really liking this four man front," Hudspeth said, and he backed it up with numbers too. "For a second straight week, we haven't allowed a team to rush over 100 yards."
Their run defense will be put to the test this week against Tulane. The Green Wave have a new coach, but he's a familiar face.
Willie Fritz took Georgia Southern to the Sun Belt and made his mark, earning a new job with the Green Wave. His option-attack on offense is difficult to prepare for in practice, and it's a grinding playing style that can drain the life out of a defense.
Speaking of defense, Hudspeth isn't overlooking Tulane's defense because of their 1-2 record. Fritz is known for his option offense, but it's not all he brings to the table.
"Coach Firtz has done a good job...don't let the record fool you," Hudspeth said with respect. "They have a very, very good defense."
This is going to be the type of game that could come down to a single play or series. Coaches always emphasize the importance of special teams play, but after the South Alabama game, Hudspeth's concern level should be higher than normal.
Starting kicker Stevie Artigue missed two extra points and a field goal against the Jags, leaving five points on the table for the Ragin' Cajuns. Hudspeth isn't going to yank his scholarship kicker off the field because of one poor performance, but he's going to take a hard look at how the team can get maximum production from the position.
Hudspeth said he will explore all options, including trying out new holders for field goal attempts. He has patience with Artigue, but this is a problem that needs to be fixed before it costs them a game.
"Place kicking job is under evaluation," Hudspeth said. "Our goal is to make 100 percent of PATS and all field goals 42 yards and in."
Fans look at those kicks as "chip shots," but there's a lot of pressure when you walk on the field in front of thousands of fans. Artigue was a local stud at Lafayette High, so if he can figure out his issues the Cajuns should expect a much better result when he lines up kicks. Hudspeth isn't giving up on him yet.
On a more serious note, Hudspeth had to address the indefinite suspension to preseason All-Sun Belt cornerback Savion Brown.
When asked if Brown could hopefully return to the team, Hudspeth answered succinctly and left it at that.
"As of now, no," Hudspeth said definitively.
That doesn't mean Brown is kicked off the team, it just means his indefinite suspension will remain indefinite. Brown's chances of getting back on the field don't look good, but Hud wasn't willing to close the door on his career just yet.
Brown won't be with the team in New Orleans, but the Ragin' Cajuns defense played fine without him against South Alabama.
Hudspeth said he looks at every in-state game as a rivalry, so the blood will be pumping hot through his veins on Saturday. Cajun Nation has fond memories of New Orleans, so hopefully the trip to the Crescent City brings smiles back to their faces.