In 2010, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns finished 3-9 and fired their head coach. Mark Hudspeth, former head Coach at North Alabama, was expected to endure a rebuilding process throughout his first few years with the school. Instead, he and new athletic director Scott Farmer turned in two nine-win seasons in their first two years and won the New Orleans Bowl twice.
One thing has been just out of reach for Hudspeth—finishing first in the Sun Belt Conference. With new schools entering the Sun Belt, the Ragin’ Cajuns are primed to make a run at the conference title. Let’s see how they look.
Last season, the Ragin’ Cajuns enjoyed success offensively. They ranked 42nd in passing yards per game (261.5) and 34th in rushing yards (193.5). The good news for the offense is that starting quarterback Terrance Broadway and starting running back Alonzo Harris both return.
Broadway completed 65 percent of his 315 passes last season and threw 17 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. It should be noted that Broadway took over for Blaine Gautier to become the full-time starter on Oct. 6, which was five weeks into the football season. Not only was Broadway effective in the air, he also averaged 6.5 rushing yards per carry in his 119 attempts and included nine rushing scores.
One of Broadway’s returning weapons is Harris, his running back who has been rather consistent in his first two seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns. Harris should be counted on for around 170 carries and 800 rushing yards. When Broadway heated up, Harris did the same. In his last three games, including the New Orleans Bowl, Harris rushed for over 100 yards in each.
The Ragin’ Cajuns lost their two most targeted receivers from 2012. Returning is Daryl Surgent and Jamal Robinson with his gaudy 24.2 yards per reception number.
The offensive line lost just two starters from last season and the Ragin’ Cajuns have replacements that Coach “Hud” thinks will fill in.
The bottom line is that this offense could be better than it was in 2012. Broadway is a very good quarterback that has flown under the radar; expect him to make some noise in 2013.
The defense is going to have a bit of a remodeling job done this season. The defense was 63rd in the FBS last season with 28.1 points allowed per game. The Ragin’ Cajuns lost six starters, three of which come from the secondary.
The linebacker corps is led by senior Justin Anderson, who topped the team with 105 tackles last season. Six of the eight linebackers return, so that unit should be as solid as last season, which is good and bad. The good is the experience, the bad is the lack of consistency and lack of pressure that these players brought last season.
The secondary lost its top two cornerbacks and its starting free safety. Five new players join the unit (two junior-college players and three freshmen) and could give the defensive backfield a completely new look for 2013. The returning players combine for one interception and just 2.5 tackles for loss. The three men who left had nine interceptions and 7.5 tackles for loss.
The defense has the most question marks on this team. It will be interesting to see how the coaches adjust after losing six of their prominent players.
Toughest Stretch of Schedule
You wouldn’t label the Ragin’ Cajuns schedule as treacherous, but they get tested quickly. They are on the road against Arkansas and Kansas State to start the season, and quickly will find out what they’re made of. If they get through unscathed, a possible undefeated season looms.
9-3. The Ragin’ Cajuns should again be bowl bound, but there remains some question marks on defense that will immediately test just how good this team can be. They should contend for the conference crown in the Sun Belt.
One guy to watch is Darius “Tig” Barksdale. The safety was at one time a four-star recruit but bounced around from Ole Miss to Jacksonville State before ending up at UL-Lafayette. With starting free safety Rodney Gillis gone, Barksdale will have a chance to live up to his potential and have an immediate impact. His role was limited in 2012, but he did have 24.5 tackles in his limited action.
Most important position to fill from 2012
Let’s stick in the secondary.
The defense was nothing special in 2012. One of the strongest points on defense was the secondary. Both starting cornerbacks are gone. How well can their replacements fill in? The Ragin’ Cajuns have the upside potential to fill those spots, but the veteran leadership will be a factor not easily replaced. If the secondary plays as well as it did last season, 2013 could be special for this team.