Now it’s just a formality. It’s kind of like knowing a party’s coming, and waiting by the mailbox for the invitation to arrive just to confirm the time and place.
With the Ragin’ Cajun football team taking its seventh win Saturday — and doing it more impressively than at any time in the seven-win-in-eight-game streak — the bid to the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl might as well be extended now.
In fact, that bowl bid might as well have been extended by Middle Tennessee quarterback Logan Kilgore midway through Saturday’s first quarter of what turned into a 45-20 Cajun romp in an all-but-empty Jones Stadium in Murfreesboro.
When Kilgore ole’d his tackle attempt on UL linebacker Devon Lewis-Buchanan during his 55-yard interception return less than nine minutes into the game, he handed Lewis-Buchanan his ticket to New Orleans as he ran by.
The senior, who joined the nation’s leading pick-six fraternity with UL’s sixth TD interception return, provided a 14-0 lead and quickly took the air out of a Blue Raider team that was 2-4 but had lost three games by field-goal margins. MT could have put itself back in the Sun Belt Conference race with a win, but instead the comically-announced 13,500 crowd saw a dominant UL performance that may have been better than the 25-point margin.
A running game that was non-existent in last week’s gut-check loss at Western Kentucky put up 338 yards — 189 of those coming from freshman Alonzo Harris to more than double his career high.
“He’s one of five true freshmen we had starting today,” coach Mark Hudspeth said afterward, not intending to but still sending a message that this is no one-season-wonder Cajun team. The past few Sun Belt seasons might have belonged to Troy, that same Middle Tennessee squad and most recently Florida International, the top three picks in this year’s preseason coaches’ poll, but as Bob Dylan and the Cajun players have said, the times they are a-changin’.
UL has now whipped all three of those teams — two of them on the road — by a combined 44 points, but Saturday’s win might have been the most shocking. While the FIU and Troy wins weren’t decided until the fourth quarter, the three-point-favored Blue Raiders were basically done when Lewis-Buchanan — the team leader in hyphens — blew by Kilgore and everyone else.
It was 21-0 at halftime, and the Cajuns had limited the high-flying Kilgore — who completed his first 19 passes the previous weekend — to a 9-for-22 showing for 81 yards with two picks that led to scores. And quarterback Blaine Gautier put the final nail in the hosts’ Halloween week nightmare with his 80-yard scoring run 90 seconds into the second half.
In fact, the only thing that stopped the Cajuns on Saturday was a malfunctioning airplane. UL was forced to stay an extra night in Nashville Saturday and didn’t get back to Lafayette until early Sunday afternoon.
Good thing it’s only a two-hour drive to New Orleans for the bowl game.
Why Gautier is not getting more notice outside of the Acadiana area is a mystery. He obviously doesn’t have the numbers that other Sun Belt quarterbacks who throw it virtually every down do, but he’s leading the league in passing efficiency by a huge margin and he’s the team’s second leading rusher. If you judge a quarterback by the team’s success, the Cajuns top the Sun Belt in red-zone offense, and it’s hard to argue with seven wins in eight games.
After Gautier’s back-breaker, UL spent the rest of the night celebrating and clearing the bench — every player on the trip that was eligible and healthy saw action. But Hudspeth, who saw what can happen one week earlier when his team didn’t play close to its now-high standards, wasn’t about to talk about bowl games with three games and two conference battles left.
“All I’m certain about is we have a very good Monroe team coming to town next week for our last home game,” he said only moments after the Cajuns gave MT its second-worst home loss in league history.
You and the guys get ready for the final home Saturday and ULM’s Warhawks this week, Coach. The rest of us are going to be making our reservations for the New Orleans Bowl. Save the date: Saturday, Dec. 17, in the Superdome. It’s going to be a heck of a party.