For the second straight week, coastal residents prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. The same could be said of the 1-3 Louisiana-Lafayette football team that comes to Baton Rouge to face 21st-ranked LSU. The Ragin' Cajuns are not expected to give much of a challenge to the Tigers, but they hope to earn a little respect from their in-state foe in addition to the sizeable paycheck they will take back home.
First-year head coach Ricky Bustle, the former offensive coordinator for Virginia Tech, is making the most of the talent he inherited from Jerry Baldwin. His goal is to make the Cajuns a competitive team in the Sun Belt Conference and vault the program from the cellar of Division I-A football.
So far, the process has been a challenging one. ULL dropped its first three contests before posting the first win of the Bustle era in hurricane-like conditions against Alabama-Birmingham. After committing 16 turnovers in their first three games, the Cajuns took care of the ball and enjoyed its most balanced performance in recent history for a 34-0 win Saturday, Sept. 21, over the Blazers at Cajun Field.
UAB committed four turnovers in the game and the Cajuns turned two of them into touchdowns. The big play was also instrumental for ULL as quarterback Jon Van Cleave connected with wide receiver Fred Stamps on a slant pattern for a 62-yard touchdown just before halftime.
Stamps had earned Sun Belt Player of the Week honors on Sept. 16 for his performance in a 36-17 loss at Houston. He had 139 yards receiving against the Cougars on just four catches, including a 78-yard touchdown catch from Van Cleave.
Stamps finished with 115 yards receiving in the Cajuns' 31-7 loss at Texas A&M.
"There is no question that Fred has been a bright spot on offense," said Bustle. "He's a guy that believes he can make plays. He has a lot of confidence in his ability to make guys miss and that's what he's done."
Stamps will have shoulder most of the receiving since fellow wideout Nick Dugas is serving a team suspension for unspecified reasons. Dugas had been named Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week after posting 134 return yards against Minnesota. His 68-yard punt return for a touchdown was the lone highlight in a 35-11 loss to the Golden Gophers.
With the Cajuns leading 10-0, ULL and UAB were just ten seconds into the third quarter when lightning forced a 33-minute delay. Miscues started to catch up to the Blazers when play resumed, resulting in ten points for ULL. Jamal Smith's 43-yard interception return for a touchdown made the score 27-0 with 23 seconds left in the period.
Running back Jerome Coleman turned in his season high against UAB, totaling 96 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown. He comes into the LSU game with 209 rushing yards in four games.
The Louisiana-Lafayette offense will have to continue to rise to the occasion while the defense looks for ways to make up for the loss of two top players due to injury. Senior linebacker and team captain Ross Brupbacher, the Cajuns' leading tackler from 2001, and junior defensive end Justin Venable are out indefinitely following injuries they suffered at Houston.
Brupbacher broke his ankle while recovering a fumble and will be sidelined another month or so, and Venable is on the mend from a severe knee sprain.
"The players have picked up their play in practice," said Bustle when commenting on the injuries. "There is always someone ready to take someone else's place. We have players that have played a little bit and now those players have a chance to get more playing time."
The LSU-ULL pairing will be the first between the two schools since the controversial last meeting between the Tigers and Cajuns on the baseball field, when LSU beat the Cajuns twice on championship day of the Baton Rouge NCAA Regional at Alex Box Stadium. Both games were decided by a 12-2 score.
Tempers flared when ULL protested Matt Heath's staring into the dugout following a key homerun in the first game. Cajuns pitcher Donnie Bair threw at Heath on his next trip to the plate and was ejected along with ULL coach Tony Robichaux.
LSU shortstop Aaron Hill was thrown out later in the inning when home plate umpire Randy Wetzel ruled that he intentionally let his bat slip out of his hands and into the ULL dugout.
According to LSU players, tensions first arose before the doubleheader when ULL pitcher Justin Gabriel confronted Tiger third baseman Wally Pontiff regarding unfavorable comments Pontiff had made about the Cajuns to the media. Pontiff, who died of a heart abnormality in July, denied making any such statements.
The LSU-ULL baseball rivalry was put on hold when Tigers' coach Smoke Laval made the decision to pull LSU out of a scheduled midweek game with the Cajuns on the 2003 schedule.
While the two schools were annual opponents in baseball, there have been very few games involving other men's sports. The Cajuns traveled to face LSU in basketball on Dec. 4, 2001, marking the first hoops contest between the two colleges since 1945.
Louisiana-Lafayette was known as Southwestern Louisiana the last time it played LSU in football. In 1938, the Tigers ran away for a 32-0 win over the Cajuns. The shutout marked the end of a nine-game stretch that saw LSU outscore the Lafayette squad 494-0.
You have to go back to 1924 to find the last time USL scored against LSU, just once in a 31-7 win for the Tigers. In LSU's 19-0 series edge, the Tigers have allowed ULL to score a total of 19 points.
Hurricane Lili not withstanding, the Cajuns have weathered worse storms than the one they will face Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.