Even though it’s only the first Sun Belt Conference game for both Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, the stakes for both teams are huge. Not just for just contending for the conference title, but for their bowl hopes.
Both the Bobcats and Ragin’ Cajuns were preseason picks to make it to bowl games this year. ULL is trying to make it five straight years to a bowl game after making and winning the last four New Orleans Bowl appearances. Texas State was snubbed a bowl bid last year after going 7-5.
Texas State and ULL are off to unimpressive 1-3 starts to the season, and their last games were big-time blowout losses. The Bobcats’ defense has been awful the last two games, giving up 56 and 59 points to Southern Miss and Houston, while the Cajuns aren’t much better with big losses to Akron and Louisiana Tech.
If there is one reason for Texas State’s struggles, look no further than its defense, which has given up over 615 yards of offense against Southern Miss and an eye-popping 689 yards against Houston two weeks ago. That was enough for defensive coordinator John Thompson to resign one day after the loss to the Cougars. Assistant coach Brad Franchione – the son of head coach Dennis Franchione – takes over Thompson’s duties.
The Bobcat offense is also problematic. After putting up big numbers against Southern Miss – 591 total yards – the offense only had 401 against Houston. That’s not bad, but considering that Texas State had four turnovers in its 59-14 loss, it could have had a better output.
Quarterback Tyler Jones is the person that makes this offense go, but he needs some help from the Texas State running game.
Meanwhile, ULL has a strong running attack in Elijah McGuire, but his numbers are down from last year. The main reason is that neither Brooks Haack nor Jalen Nixon has settled in as a consistent player at quarterback, and opposing defenses know this. The Cajuns have been held to only four touchdowns in their last two games and average only 193 passing yards per game and only two passing touchdowns for the season.
Meanwhile, the ULL defense has struggled against the pass lately, giving up 290 passing yards to former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel in the 43-14 loss to La. Tech.
Head coach Mark Hudspeth is a great motivator for his team, and has been able to get his team to rebound in SBC play. He’ll need to do it again, and quickly.
This game is crucial for each team’s bowl hopes because the SBC schedule does not get much easier for either team. Texas State has road games at Georgia Southern and at Arkansas State, two tough places to get wins. Other than the game at Idaho, this game at ULL is the Bobcats’ best bet for a road win, even though Texas State has never beaten the Cajuns.
ULL has to hold serve at home if it plans to get back to the New Orleans Bowl. Winning at Arkansas State and at Appalachian State will be tough for the Cajuns to do unless their passing offense can get going. Also, the game at South Alabama will not be easy either, and even though the game against UL-Monroe is at home, it’s a rivalry game, which anything can happen.
If one of these teams goes 7-5 and misses out on a bowl game, they will point to this game as a possible turning point in their season and look at it as a missed opportunity.