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Lunch with Coach Fran: Close, but no cigar

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No conference team has the Bobcats’ number quite like Louisiana-Lafayette.

Perhaps that’s an understatement. Louisiana-Lafayette has Texas State’s number and didn’t even bother to text them back for a second date.

Well, make that a third date. The last two tries haven’t worked out so well for Texas State.

In the last two meetings, the Ragin’ Cajuns have scored 82 points and totaled 1,100 offensive yards. Texas State combined for 34 points and 466 yards in two losses.

“Somehow the computer spits us out to get to play Lafayette every year,” said Coach Dennis Franchione. “I don’t know how that happens. I thought the computers have a variance tool. So we get to open there. That’s been a tough opener for us.”

Franchione calls Louisiana-Lafayette the class of the conference for a reason. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won 12 of their last 15 conference matchups by 8.7 points per game.

Move the timeline even further and Louisiana-Lafayette’s conference record is 24-7 since the 2011 season.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s only three conference losses in the last two years have been to Appalachian State, Louisiana-Monroe and South Alabama.

“They’ve been the class of the league for the past four or five years and Mark’s done a great job there,” Franchione said. “They’ve had good players. They’ve played well. They’ve coached well. They have good fan support. They have a tough place to play.”

At least there are parallels between Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas State this year. Louisiana-Lafayette is 1-3, with its only win occurring against an FCS team.

Sound familiar?

The only difference between the 1-3 starts is that Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense hasn’t taken the drubbing Texas State has.

Compared to the Bobcats—125th in total defense and 127th in scoring defense—the Ragin’ Cajuns are sitting pretty even though they’ve allowed Akron, Louisiana Tech and Kentucky to average 39.3 points per game.

And unlike Texas State, there’s precedent for Louisiana-Lafayette to find a way out of a 1-3 hole.

It happened last season, as a matter of fact. The Ragin’ Cajuns won seven of their last eight games, concluding with a fourth consecutive victory in the New Orleans Bowl.

“They know they’ve been here before,” said Louisiana-Lafayette Coach Mark Hudspeth. “And they’ve seen the map on how to do it.”

“Right now, for being 1-3, we’ve got a little mojo. We’ve got kids that know how to win. We’ve got kids that know how to work, that have been a part of a team that’s had the success we’ve been a part of.”

However, this year’s Louisiana-Lafayette team isn’t as well-equipped to turn the season around due to the quarterback position—or lack thereof.

At this point, Hudspeth hasn’t named a starting quarterback. Jalen Nixon and Brooks Haack, Ragin’ Cajuns junior quarterbacks, split the practice reps Tuesday.

Through four games, Haack has completed 39 of 66 passes for 479 passing yards and zero touchdowns, along with four interceptions.

Nixon’s numbers aren’t much better. He’s tallied 295 passing yards on 57 attempts, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Haack started against Akron before ceding the start to Nixon last week.

The position is murky at best. The quarterback position should be the least of every football team’s worries.

After all, it was Louisiana-Lafayette who built its conference empire on the strength of quarterback Terrance Broadway.

But Broadway is gone, leaving behind a gaping hole in the most important position of football. In three seasons, Broadway accounted for 9,420 total yards, 69 total touchdowns and 30 interceptions.

Quarterback is no longer a problem area for Texas State. The position has become a strength for the Bobcats.

Among his conference peers, Tyler Jones is third in passing yards per game, second in passing efficiency and first in completion percentage.

Texas State has the undeniable advantage at quarterback and that could swing the game in the Bobcats’ favor.

A good quarterback is only beneficial if the defense improves just enough to support the offense.

“I think we are closer,” Franchione said. “From watching the film I think we feel that way. The score may not have shown that sometimes. When you look at the Arkansas State win last year, who has also been one of those teams, it kind of showed that we are closing the gap. We just aren’t closing it against Lafayette, head-to-head.”

Close won’t cut it this time around because Texas State needs a signature win—something to build momentum for a team on the brink.

Beating Louisiana-Lafayette would certainly count as that.