The Year in Review: U.L.L. (9-4, 6-2)
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 4, 2012
Louisiana-Lafayette is one of those programs: clinging to relevance by the thinnest of fingernails, the Ragin’ Cajuns hope to catch lightning in a bottle with each new coaching hire. Rickey Bustle wasn’t lightning in the bottle, more like a flimsy nightlight, but Mark Hudspeth — now this, perhaps more than any hire in recent F.B.S. memory, had an immediate, lightning-quick strike on the program’s fortunes. Among Hudspeth’s first-year feats? Nine wins, U.L.L.’s most on the F.B.S. level and tied for the most in program history.
Total points: 420. Never before had the Ragin’ Cajuns scored more than 397 points in a season. A bowl game, the program’s first. Six straight wins in September and October, which alone would have tied a program-high for wins in a season in any year from 1994-2010.
It’s not all good news. It’s almost entirely good news, but there is bad news: like the average lug who reeled in the prettiest girl in town, the Ragin’ Cajuns should have their doubts. Will the infatuation last? Not on our end, says U.L.L., but on our beloved’s — Hudspeth is happy now, but how long will he stay?
Good news, bad news. To keep Hudspeth in the fold, U.L.L. would need to return to Bustle-era mediocrity. No one wants that. But to continue this year’s success in 2012 and beyond would mean that before too long, a major B.C.S. conference program would come into town and sweep Hudspeth off his feet.
The lesson, for average Joe suitors and little-known non-B.C.S. conference programs alike: appreciate today, because tomorrow lies way, way ahead in the future. Have so much fun today that you don’t even think about tomorrow. Enjoy your day in the sun; U.L.L. hasn’t had many of those days, even in sunny Louisiana.
You can always watch the New Orleans Bowl on DVD, or on your own TV, should you have had the foresight to use your recording device of choice. And it’s not as if Hudspeth is leaving today, after all. His name popped up in connection with the open Arizona job, thanks to his connection to athletic director Greg Byrne, as well as with Mississippi, but Hudspeth’s back in Lafayette for 2012.
There may be more fun days ahead, especially on offense. Quarterback Blaine Gautier, a rising senior, had a superb season in Hudspeth’s system. Freshmen backs Alonzo Harris and Qyendarius Griffin form the backbone of the running game. The team’s two leading receivers are juniors, though losing tight end Ladarius Green hurts.
Season grade: A The only drawback to an otherwise perfect season? That the Ragin’ Cajuns might not have achieved the biggest rebound in the Sun Belt; that title goes to Western Kentucky, which beat U.L.L. by 19 points in October. So the Ragin’ Cajuns weren’t the best story out of the S.B.C., merely a great one. I mean, nine wins… does that deserve an exclamation point? It should: this is Louisiana-Lafayette, not Louisiana State, and nine wins is cause for a winter-long crawfish boil. Who’s bringing the Abita?
High point The wild and wacky New Orleans Bowl, which featured two as-yet unknown events: one, a Louisiana-Lafayette bowl win — let alone a bowl trip — and the usage of the term “illegal stemming,” which allowed the Ragin’ Cajuns to call on kicker Brett Baer for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Laissez les bons temps rouler, and that’s the final Louisiana stereotype I’m going to use in this post.
Low point Losing to the Hilltoppers didn’t feel good, but U.L.L. remained in the thick of the Sun Belt hunt heading into its trip to Jonesboro to cap the conference season. The Red Wolves had their number: the Ragin’ Cajuns put up a good fight, even taking a third quarter lead, but eventually lost, 30-21.
Offensive M.V.P. Green’s an intriguing pick. His numbers took a slight dip from his 2009 and 2010 seasons, but there’s little doubt that Green’s ability to work the middle of the field allowed receivers Harry Peoples and Javone Lawson to get free on the outside. But I’ll give the nod to Gautier, who had an abysmal sophomore season as one part of U.L.L.’s revolving threesome of quarterbacks but led the Sun Belt in touchdowns and quarterback efficiency in 2011 — the latter by a very comfortable margin.
Defensive M.V.P. The defense was sometimes solid, though only against the weaklings of the nation’s weakest conference: Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Monroe, to cite a pair. One of the unit’s biggest issues was a dearth of big plays; the Ragin’ Cajuns did force 23 turnovers, but 10 of those came over the year’s first three games. But U.L.L. did make them count: in addition to finishing second on the team in tackles, Jemarious Moten returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He’ll share M.V.P. honors with linebacker Lance Kelley, who led the team in tackles.
Stock watch Louisiana-Lafayette won’t be sneaking up on the Sun Belt in 2012. That’s a storyline to watch as the Ragin’ Cajuns look to maintain, if not build upon, this year’s success. But the sky is the limit — to a degree. As we saw with Arkansas State and Hugh Freeze, it’s highly likely that Hudspeth, should he continue to win, will be nabbed up by a B.C.S. conference program in the region. As long as he’s in town, however, the Ragin’ Cajuns are a Sun Belt contender. The team should again be a conference favorite in 2012, depending on Western Kentucky’s continued improvement and Gus Malzahn’s ability to keep things rolling in Jonesboro.
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Tags: Alonzo Harris, Blaine Gautier, Jemarious Moten, Lance Kelley, Louisiana-Lafayette, Mark Hudspeth, New Orleans Bowl, Qyendarius Griffin
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