Back Louisiana Ready for More Success

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Louisiana Ready for More Success

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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The Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a fourth straight 9-4 season that included a fourth straight New Orleans Bowl triumph.

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — The regret and the lessons associated with three straight lopsided losses in the first month of last season have stuck with Louisiana guard Mykhael Quave and fellow veteran teammates.

The Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a fourth straight 9-4 season that included a fourth straight New Orleans Bowl triumph. Yet that fell short of expectations set in the 2014 preseason, when Louisiana was picked in a Sun Belt Conference coaches' poll to win the league.

This year, Louisiana was picked to finish second in the Sun Belt behind defending champion Georgia Southern. That's fine by the Cajuns, who say they now appreciate how dangerous expectations can be if players buy into them before they've put in the work required to fulfill them.

"We're not getting caught up in all the flashing lights, thinking about what this is going to be at the end of the season," Quave said. "That's where we slipped up last year, thinking too far ahead, not thinking about the now."

Senior linebacker Dominique Tovell said the Cajuns' new approach means giving "that extra effort, coming in and watching extra film, meeting with the coaches about something you may not understand."

Such comments should please coach Mark Hudspeth, who is among those who believes his players got caught believing their own hype and looking too far ahead last year.

"We didn't handle expectations very well," Hudspeth said. "Hopefully we can handle them a little better this year."

Here are some story lines surrounding the 2015 Ragin' Cajuns:

QB OPENING: The Cajuns will have a new quarterback after the departure of three-year starter Terrance Broadway. The top candidates are juniors Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon. "Both of the quarterbacks look pretty good," Quave said. "I have confidence in whomever it'll be."

DEFENSIVE DIRECTION: Hudspeth had an opening at defensive coordinator after James Willis left to become a linebackers coach with the New Orleans Saints. Hudspeth's solution was to bring in two former Auburn assistants as co-coordinators: Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison. Their encouraging, high-energy approach seems to resonate with Cajuns players. "You're OK to make a mistake (in practice), because if you don't make a mistake you can't learn from it, and that's what they're really instilling," Tovell said. "When you've got some guys who are smiling and laughing and having a good time, it rubs off on everybody and everybody gets better work."

BLIND SIDE: The new quarterback will have a new left tackle protecting him. That's partly because coaches were confident enough in Grant Horst to move him into that spot and ask Quave, who played tackle last season, to move to guard. It's a team-first move by Quave, whose NFL draft stock would be better served if he remained at tackle. As for how Horst looks, Quave said, "I lose no sleep thinking about: Is he ready to perform. I feel like he's ready right now."

MCGUIRE'S STRIDES: Elijah McGuire was named the Sun Belt's offensive player of the year as a sophomore in 2014 after running for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns. Not surprisingly, he's also been named the Sun Belt's preseason offensive player of the year in what will be the last season before he becomes eligible for the NFL draft.

OPENING HURDLE: Louisiana opens its season as the first visiting team to play in newly expanded Commonwealth Stadium at Kentucky. That's the only opponent from a Power Five conference on a schedule that also does not include Georgia Southern. So if ULL can upset the Wildcats on Sept. 5, an unbeaten regular season would become a significantly more realistic proposition.