2012 Louisiana-Lafayette Preview

Posted Aug 11, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Louisiana Ragin' Cajunss

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mark Hudspeth
2nd year: 9-4
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 19, Def. 25, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Louisiana Players
1. WR Javone Lawson, Sr.
2. CB Melvin White, Sr.
3. QB Blaine Gautier, Sr.
4. RB Alonzo Harris, Soph.
5. OT Leonard Bates, Sr.
6. PK Brett Baer, Sr.
7. DT Jalen Fields, Jr.
8. CB Jemarious Moten, Sr.
9. WR Harry Peoples, Sr.
10. LB Jake Molbert, Soph.

Unit Rankings
QB - 6
RB - 5
WR - 6.5
OL - 5
DL - 5
LB - 5
DB - 5
ST - 7.5
2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 Lamar
Sept. 8 at Troy
Sept. 15 at Oklahoma St
Sept. 22 OPEN DATE
Sept. 29 FIU
Oct. 6 Tulane
Oct. 16 at North Texas
Oct. 23 Arkansas State
Nov. 3 at ULM
Nov. 10 at Florida
Nov. 17 WKU
Nov. 24 South Alabama
Dec. 1 at Florida Atlantic
If you're a program that had never been to a bowl game and struggled to consistently win since becoming a part of the Sun Belt, how do you top that?

All the Ragin' Cajuns did in the first season under head coach Mark Hudspeth was win nine games capped off by a thrilling victory on the final kick to beat San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. Now the expectations are high, the fan base is jacked, and the hope is to come up with a Sun Belt title and possibly a ten-win season if the team can make a big step forward. Considering the changes that had to be made after going 3-9 in 2010, the burst into the limelight has been nothing short of remarkable.

What's even more remarkable is that Hudspeth is still around.

While he wasn't quite the hot coaching candidate from the Sun Belt that Hugh Freeze was coming from Arkansas State or Mario Cristobal is at FIU, Hudspeth is destined for a step-up job in the near future, but for now, he and his excellent staff should be able to put up a team strong enough to contend for the Sun Belt title and become a real, live threat to give Oklahoma State and Florida a big run in nasty road games.

Even with seven starters gone off the defense and a few replacements needed on offense, ULL has the starting 22 – not including Brett Baer, one of the nation's best kickers – to hang around with anyone. The depth might be a bit of an issue, but that's the case for just about every Sun Belt team. If the Ragin' Cajuns can stay healthy, Hudspeth should prove that 2011 wasn't a fluke.

Quarterback Blaine Gautier and the passing game should be outstanding with a great group of veteran receivers to play around with and a coaching staff that doesn't have to start from scratch. Now it'll be about fine-tuning and finding more pop and explosion.

The team was able to come up with a great season despite a slew of struggles on defense, especially with the pass defense, so needing to replace several key starters shouldn't be that big a deal. With the addition of a few SEC transfers like linemen Jalen Fields from Georgia and Cordian Hagans from LSU along with linebacker Delvin Jones and safety Darius Barksdale from Ole Miss, the D could actually turn out to be a strength.

This should be a fun season and a fun time to be a Ragin' Cajun fan, but now the pressure is on. The program knows what it's like to be a success, and it's not going to want to go back any time soon.

What You Need To Know About The …
Offense: The offense that was so efficient and so effective at times in Hudspeth's first season welcomes back nine starters highlighted by an interesting quarterback situation. Blaine Gautier is the unquestioned starter, but Houston transfer Terrance Broadway might be better. After a year cranking out the Sun Belt's most efficient passing attack, the coaching staff isn't going to make any major changes, especially with Javone Lawson and a loaded receiving corps returning. Star tight end Ladarius Green is gone, but six of the top seven pass catchers are back. Gautier is an excellent runner, but Alonzo Harris is the main back who can handle most of the load. Four starters return to a strong and solid offensive front that's lacking in depth. Left tackle Leonardo Bates is the best of the bunch with sophomore right guard Daniel Quave a rising star.

Defense: The defense was fine, not great, and now it has to replace seven starters. The secondary that was such a huge problem last season gets a huge help from the addition of Ole Miss safety Darius Barksdale to go along with senior corners Melvin White and Jemarlous Moten. Only one of the top five tacklers is back – Moten – with linebackers Jake Molbert and Le'Marcus Gibson needing to add some pop to a mediocre run defense. Former Georgia lineman Jalen Fields will be one of the key parts of the puzzle on the inside, while LSU transfer Cordian Hagans should be the anchor after making 18 tackles in his first year. The pass rush has to start coming from somewhere on a steady basis with top sacker Bernard Smith gone.

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. ULL finished 29th in the nation in passing and first in the Sun Belt in efficiency, and there's no reason to expect any sort of a drop off with Gautier a terrific veteran quarterback working behind a veteran line. The key will be a loaded receiving corps that might lose a playmaking tight end in Ladarius Green, but gets back 1,092 yards, eight scores and 17.3 yards per catch from senior Javone Lawson and 58 catches and 697 yards and a score from senior Harry Peoples. Darryl Surgent will play an even bigger role after hitting home run after home run averaging 18.5 yards per grab with six scores. By far this should be the best receiving corps in the Sun Belt and should keep the offense rolling.

What to watch for on defense: Can the pass defense be a little better? The defensive front was able to generate a decent pass rush throughout the year and was able to generate pressure behind the line, but the results weren't there in the secondary allowing 261 yards per game and getting torched for 23 touchdowns including eight in the final three games. This year, the line has to replace all three starters but could be even stronger with 300-pounders Cordian Hagans and Justin Hamilton able to plug things up and Emeka Onyenekwu a good-looking pass rushing end. It might take a little bit, but there's good depth and plenty of upside.

The team will be far better if … the penalties slow down. The opponents were big on sinning, too, getting flagged a whopping 93 times for 796 yards, but ULL was worse committing 99 penalties for 859 yards. There was a rough early season stretch of 31 penalties in three games, but the team was able to get away with it winning all three games. However, the 20 penalties against Arkansas State and Arizona were a big part of the two losses late in the year, and the nine penalties against San Diego State in the bowl were an issue.

The schedule: Once again ULL has to deal with Oklahoma State on the road in what should be another shootout, but that comes the week after kicking off the Sun Belt season at Troy in what could be a make-or-break game for early September. The Ragin' Cajuns couldn't ask for much more out of the conference schedule getting FIU, Arkansas State and WKU – three of the best teams – at home and closing out with relative lightweights South Alabama and Florida Atlantic. There's a stretch of three road games in four, but there's a week off before going to ULM.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Javone Lawson. Quarterback Blaine Gautier will be the one who makes everything go, and running back Alonzo Harris is a great-looking young do-it-all playmaker, but Lawson is the strongest offensive player and the one who should make a good offense dangerous. Ultra-steady, he caught four passes or more in eight of the last nine games with four 100-yard games closing out with a brilliant nine-catch, 193-yard, two score day in the bowl win over San Diego State. At 6-1 and 183 pounds and with phenomenal speed, he should be even more dangerous averaging over 17 yards per grab again.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Melvin White. Back for yet another year as the main man on one side now that fellow corner Dwight "Bill" Bentley is off to the NFL. The 6-3, 191-pound White is a big, athletic defender who came up with 64 tackles with seven broken up passes and two picks. While he's built to be a nickel back and could find a role at the next level as a backup safety, he'll be one of the Sun Belt's top shutdown corners.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DE/LB Delvin Jones. Part linebacker, part end, all pass rusher at the Bandit position, Jones needs to make up for the losses of top sackers Melvin White and Chris Tucker by getting into the backfield on a regular basis. The 6-5, 230-pound former Rebel was a star recruit for Ole Miss by was booted off the team, went the JUCO route and now has the ability and potential to be a key star for the front seven. If he's great, the terrific corners should do their jobs.

The season will be a success if … the Ragin' Cajuns win the Sun Belt title. There's work to do on defense and the running game has to be more consistent and stronger, but the schedule is nice and the attack should be explosive enough to win shootouts against just about everyone. If they hold serve at home against Arkansas State, WKU and FIU, the Sun Belt championship should be theirs for the taking as long as they beat …

Key game: September 8 at Troy. ULL lost five straight to the Trojans before coming up with a 31-17 victory last season in a key part of a nice early season run of wins. Troy should be back to form with a loaded offense and a slightly improved defense, but if the Ragin' Cajuns come away with the win in their toughest conference home game, everything will be set up perfectly to go for the title.

2011 Fun Stats:
- 4th Down Conversions: ULL 11-of-15 (73%) – Opponents 8-of-21 (38%)
- Time of Possession: Opponents 31:42 – ULL 28:10
- Punt Return Average: ULL 10.4 yards – Opponents 4.8 yards
- 2012 Louisiana Depth Chart