“I was telling my roomie (junior wide receiver Javone Lawson) that last year at this time we were 2-6,” Gaddies said on Monday. “And now we’re 6-2. Things have changed a lot.”
Gaddies remembers what it was like for his football season to effectively be over in October. Last season during the week before Halloween, the Ragin’ Cajuns were being hammered 54-21 at their Homecoming game by an upstart Western Kentucky team that had lost 26 straight games. That was in the middle of a seven-game losing streak during what wound up as a 3-9 season.
Gaddies wasn’t fond of last Saturday’s 42-23 loss at that same Western Kentucky team, but he realized the difference. Saturday’s loss snapped a six-game winning streak, and the Cajuns still stand at 6-2 overall and a solid 4-1 in Sun Belt Conference play.
“We’ll use this as a wake-up call,” said first-year coach Mark Hudspeth. “We got our rear ends handed to us, and in the locker room we talked about taking it (the loss) like a man, and now we come back to work like a man.”
The Cajuns face three more Sun Belt tests over the next three weekends, and none of the three will be easy. They head to Middle Tennessee — a 17-or-more point winner over UL each of the last two seasons — on Saturday, host UL Monroe on Nov. 5 in the home finale and then go to Arkansas State on Nov. 12 to meet the only team that’s currently unbeaten in league play. They’ll be underdogs in both road games (the early betting line had MTSU as a three-point favorite this Saturday).
A win in one of those games would likely lock down a postseason trip somewhere, more than likely to the New Orleans Bowl, but if they plan to win the Sun Belt title they’ll need to win at least two of the three and likely all three.
Not nearly as many people were talking bowl games and league titles this week, a logical result of last weekend’s loss, but all that talk and swagger will come back with one victory. And, unlike many previous Cajun teams, this year’s squad doesn’t doubt its ability to get wins against a schedule that’s filled with “toss-up” games. It’s significant to note that none of the wins in the six-game streak were decided until the final period, even the 30-10 Homecoming win two weeks ago over North Texas.
“Every week we’ve been battling,” Hudspeth said of the recent streak, “and in the fourth quarter we’ve found a way to win. It was just happening like clockwork.”
And when UL suddenly found itself within 28-23 last Saturday, after trailing the entire game, there was a feeling that good things were still about to happen. This time it didn’t, with Western coming right back to score three minutes later and then adding a meaningless tally in the final 70 seconds.
“All of a sudden things weren’t going the way we planned,” Hudspeth said. “Life throws you a curve ball sometimes.”
The Cajuns have been catching up with more than their share of those curve balls this year. That’s why they’re bowl eligible before Halloween (and one of only 23 teams in the country that are bowl-qualified right now), and that’s why Hudspeth’s currently fifth nationally in the fan voting for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award (by the way, you can help Hudspeth win that award by voting daily at www.coachoftheyear.com).
Last Saturday’s loss aside, there’s no gloom and doom circulating around the program. Even with a mostly new staff, there are still enough coaches, players and fans around who remember what they felt like 12 months ago.
But it’s not a bad thing to want more, and that’s what all of those groups are hoping for over the next three weeks.