WKU facing challenge with surprising Ragin’ Cajuns

Running back Bobby Rainey catches a touchdown pass during WKU’s 26-22 loss to Arkansas State Oct. 1. Rainey and the Toppers take on Sun Belt Conference leader Louisiana-Lafayette at 3 p.m. Saturday in Smith Stadium.

Brad Stephens

These aren’t last year’s Ragin’ Cajuns.

One year ago WKU traveled to Cajun Field and ended its 26-game losing streak emphatically, beating Louisiana-Lafayette 54-21.

Those 2010 Cajuns stumbled to a 3-9 record, and veteran coach Ricky Bustle was shown the door.

Enter Head Coach Mark Hudspeth, who has ULL (6-1, 4-0 Sun Belt Conference) on a six-game win streak and sitting alone on top of the league standings.

WKU (2-4, 2-1) will look to cool off the upstart Cajuns when the two teams play at 3 p.m. Saturday at Smith Stadium in the Toppers’ annual Homecoming game.

“Holy cow, that turnaround they’ve had is remarkable,” offensive coordinator Zach Azzanni said. “They’re doing great things.” 

Hudspeth came to ULL from Mississippi State where he had been passing game coordinator under Bulldogs’ coach Dan Mullen.

His offense has scored at least 30 points in each of its Sun Belt contests, including a 30-10 win over North Texas last Saturday.

“Once you meet Coach Hud, you’ll see they’re going to follow his personality and the type of guy he is,” Head Coach Willie Taggart said. “He’s a winner and they’re playing that way.”

The Cajuns are led by dual-threat quarterback Blaine Gautier.

The junior has thrown for 10 touchdowns with just one interception this season, while rushing for 225 yards and one score.

Gautier has done much of his damage throwing to wide receiver Javone Lawson, who has a team-high 452 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

“He’s real dangerous,” junior safety Kareem Peterson said of Gautier. “He can get the ball to his receivers and he can run. I think the team looks a little bit more athletic.”

In addition to Gautier and Lawson, WKU will have to deal with both a big Cajun offensive line and athletic tight end, Ladarius Green.

Green, like junior Topper tight end Jack Doyle, was named to the John Mackey Award Midseason list earlier in the week.

The Mackey Award is given annually to the nation’s best collegiate tight end.

Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry said he expects the Cajuns to line up in multiple offensive sets to utilize Green and the rest of their weapons.

“With them, they get in a lot of different formations with a lot of different personnel,” Guidry said. “It’s not conventional…We’re going to have to be on point and play fast.”

The Topper defense will have all its starters available Saturday, including senior defensive end Jared Clendenin.

Clendenin had his left arm in a sling Tuesday at practice, but Taggart said the Stone Mountain, Ga., native will be ready to go against the Cajuns.

For WKU’s offense, sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones has practiced all week after tweaking an ankle last week in the Toppers’ win over Florida Atlantic.

He will likely split snaps against ULL with fellow sophomore Nick Baisch, who filled in for Jones against FAU.

A win for the Toppers Saturday would extend their longest win streak since 2007 and give them their first home win since 2008.

It would also allow the Toppers to maintain their third-place position in the Sun Belt standings, giving them an important tiebreaker over ULL and keeping them just a game back of Arkansas State.

“We want to win a Sun Belt Conference championship, and Lafayette is the next team in the way of our goal,” Taggart said. “It’s going to be exciting.”