He had just introduced former Ragin’ Cajun standouts Brian Mitchell, Jake Delhomme and Glenn LaFleur to the crowd – like they needed introductions – and awarded them commemorative framed New Orleans Bowl jerseys with the numbers they wore during their careers.
“It means a lot when you have your former guys come back,” Hudspeth said to the crowd. “Heck, I’m the head coach here, and I wanted to pull out a pen and a piece of paper and get their autographs, and I hope they’re pleased with the direction their program is going.”
Not a problem there, coach. That threesome – the two biggest offensive producers in school history and the school’s first All-American, respectively – never had the chance to play in a Division I bowl game. Hudspeth’s first team did that last December in the memorable 32-30 win over San Diego State in the Superdome.
Mitchell, Delhomme, LaFleur and the rest of the Cajun faithful are still riding the high from that game, one that served as a microcosm for the 2011 season. But now, those three, and those same faithful, are living in a world of different expectations when it comes to UL football.
Fortunately for them, if last Saturday is any indication, the Cajuns have a decent chance to get back to New Orleans, or to some other post-season appearance, even though most of the defensive unit has to be rebuilt due to graduation.
The spring game showed the Cajuns can still throw and catch, Blaine Gautier’s three interceptions aside. Both he and transfer quarterback Terrance Broadway threaded several needles with solid throws, and the receiving corps didn’t miss a beat after its jaw-dropping performance in the bowl game. UL may have also found some support for Alonzo Harris in the running game, with Cecilia’s Montrel Carter showing flashes.
“Montrel Carter showed that he can be a good player in this league,” Hudspeth said. “He’s got to get stronger and add a little weight, but he can turn the corner.”
But Saturday, it was all about the throwing game, even though Hudspeth wasn’t totally pleased with what he saw.
“I was a little disappointed in the quarterback play,” he said, “but that’s because we’ve gotten used to expecting a lot. When they don’t play as well as they can, they tend to get the blame. They were maybe pressing a little, but in game situations we know Blaine’s going to make the plays. Terrance settled down and made some nice throws. It’s good to see that we have two very good quarterbacks.”
Hudspeth isn’t just spouting off coach-speak there. He’s got the New Orleans Bowl MVP (Gautier) and a guy who would be starting for a lot of teams (Broadway) both available, and both showed no fear in throwing the deep ball throughout the spring and in Saturday’s game. And he’s got receivers that will go get it when the quarterbacks throw it deep.
“Every receiver that was out there today made plays,” said Gautier, who had two of this three picks bounce off other hands.
“We’ve got some big-play ability at the wideout position,” Hudspeth said, “and our quarterbacks can get it down the field to them”
It was an intrasquad game, however, and that means for every good thing that one unit does, there’s likely a unit that didn’t do good things. Most fans – and most of the Cajun coaching staff – were watching to see what an experience-challenged unit would do, and they came away with mixed reviews. That unit came up with six turnovers, but gave up more big plays than that. Hudspeth said there are still questions at one tackle, one linebacker slot and a safety/outside linebacker position.
But there were also a ton of defensive questions last year after spring practice, and that unit became a serviceable group that had a penchant for big plays.
“The big difference in last year and this year is competition,” Hudspeth said. “We’re so much deeper on both sides, and our players have bought in a lot more. We still have work to do, but we’re light years away from where we were. I love the direction of this program.”
A lot of folks there Saturday would agree.