2011 Record: (9-4, 6-2 in Sun Belt)
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth (9-4 at UL, 75-25 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 New Orleans Bowl: beat San Diego St 32-30
Stat to Cheer: Converted on 92.86% of trips to red zone (1st in Sun Belt and 5th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: allowed 144 passing plays of 10 or more yards (last in Sun Belt and 117th in Nation)
Key Defensive Returnees: CB Melvin White, CB Jemarious Moten
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Blaine Gautier (23 TD, 6 INT), RB Alonzo Harris (700 yds, 8 TD), WR Javone Lawson (63 Rec, 8 TD), WR Harry Peoples (58 Rec, 1 TD), OT Leonardo Bates
Inside Scoop with the Cajun Red Zone:
CFBZ: Mark Hudspeth had great success in his first season. Why do you think he was so successful in year one?
Cajun Red Zone: After watching video of the 2010 Ragin’Cajuns team lose a number of games in the second half after going into half time with a lead or playing within a few points, Coach Hudspeth coordinated with his strength and conditioning Coach Rusty Whitt to introduce a strenuous offseason conditioning program that would help his athletes compete in the fourth quarter. That program began in January of 2011 and never stopped through summer workouts. The second thing he did was bring organization, accountability and discipline to the program from his coaches down to the athletes and trainers. And the third thing he did was to use his recruiting connections in Mississippi to bring in quality athletes that were going to be placed in junior colleges by Mississippi State, Ole Miss and other programs to protect.
CFBZ: What are the primary areas that Louisiana needs to improve on in year two under Hudspeth?
Cajun Red Zone: The Cajuns lost 9 starters on defense, especially in the front seven. While a number of underclassmen played and started at times because of injuries, the lack of experience from transfers will play a huge role in how fast the defense develops. The talent is there, but the lack of FBS experience raises some questions.
CFBZ: What is the one game on the schedule that Cajun fans want to win this year more than any other?
Cajun Red Zone: Obviously having Sun Belt contenders FIU, ASU and Western Kentucky at home are all important games. But the one game UL would like to win at home the most is against 2011 champion Arkansas State. Losing last year’s game in Jonesboro for the championship was heartbreaking for the staff and athletes. In addition to that, it was a very emotional game with some things left unresolved on the field afterwards. You can bet the UL staff and athletes have the Arkansas State game circled on the schedule at home.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Cajun Red Zone: Louisiana has home games against Lamar, Tulane, FIU, ASU, WKU and South Alabama…All those games are winnable at Cajun Field, leaving the need for just one road win to become bowl eligible with games at ULM, North Texas and FAU. The Cajuns will hold court at home in 2012, and will win two or three road games finishing the season 8-4 at worst. They return the Sun Belts #1 offense with New Orleans Bowl MVP Blaine Gautier behind center along with an experienced offensive line and one of the top receiving corps in the conference. They also return one of the top kickers in country in K/P Brett Baer. The only question remaining for the Ragin’ Cajuns is just how effective will the defensive unit become in 2012 with former SEC signees like Jaylin Fields, Tig Barksdale and Daylin Jones on the field.
If you aren’t impressed with what Mark Hudspeth did in his first year at Louisiana then you should probably just stop watching football. Hudspeth brings back a ton of talent on offense including a senior QB and two senior receivers that put up some impressive numbers last season. Louisiana is one of the deeper teams in the Sun Belt in terms of senior starters but the depth of seniors behind those starters is the lowest in the league. I would expect to see much of the same from Louisiana on offense. Losing Ladarius Green will hurt but Ian Thompson did get some playing time last season.
The big question mark for the Ragin Cajuns is the defense. Last year, the defense was a middle of the road Sun Belt defense (fifth in scoring defense and six in scoring defense). For Louisiana to take the next step this season, it’s the defense that will need to show big improvement. Look for Louisiana to be in the thick of the Sun Belt race again this season.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
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