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LA College Football Notebook: Tech's thrashing of Illini no "upset"

Louisiana Tech handled Illinois with ease in Champagne this past Saturday.Louisiana Tech handled Illinois with ease in Champagne this past Saturday.

Why do people keep referring to Louisiana Tech's win at Illinois last Saturday as an upset?

When you win 52-24, that's not an upset. And it also wasn't a surprise, except maybe the amount of the final margin. But most who follow college football, and especially those in Louisiana who keep tabs, figured on the Bulldogs going to Champaign, Ill., and coming back with a win.

The Vegas betting line had Illinois as a 2 1/2-point favorite, but that was obviously just to balance the bets. Apparently, a lot more people bet on Big Ten teams nationally, so this line was more about getting similar numbers bet on each side than who was going to win.

Tech was dominant from the start, leading 21-7 after one quarter and forcing six Illinois turnovers while recording five quarterback sacks.

"I thought we played a lot more physical up front than we had before," said Bulldog coach Sonny Dykes, whose team is 3-0. "We made better plays on the football. I think we gained a lot of confidence in the first half."

The Bulldog offense has played with confidence all year. The 52 points, incredibly, is Tech's lowest output of the season after going for 56 against both Houston and Rice. Amazingly, the Bulldogs scored 52 points while running only 59 offensive plays and averaged almost seven yards per play.

Tech goes to Virginia for another non-conference battle this week, and apparently the national folks are starting to take notice. The Bulldogs, who received 28 points in the USA Today coaches poll (good for 33rd nationally if you're counting) and seven votes in the AP poll this week, are an early 2 1/2-point favorite.

And if the 'Dogs can pull off another road win this week, the only major roadblock between Tech and a perfect -- and shocking -- 12-0 season comes on Oct. 13 against Texas A&M. That game was originally scheduled for an Aug. 30 Thursday night season opener in Shreveport's Independence Stadium, but was moved due to the threat of Hurricane Isaac.

The rest of the schedule is littered with remnants of the WAC, which will go away as a football entity after this year when Tech romps to the league's final title.

BIG ONE SATURDAY: When UL looks for a defining moment in its 2011 season -- the one that wound up with the Ragin' Cajuns winning the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome -- it's easy to pick it out. The Cajuns are hoping this weekend provides a little deja vu.

Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth said that if the Cajuns hadn't gone to Miami and taken a Sun Belt Conference-opening win over Florida International early last season, the rest -- nine wins and triumphing in their first-ever Division I bowl game -- might not have happened.

"That game expedited our progress," said Hudspeth, whose team finished at 9-4 in his first season after the Cajuns won only three times the previous year. "That gave us instant confidence, and when you have that, you start thinking that maybe you're a little better than you thought. It got us excited, and after that it seemed like we just played better each week."

That's the kind of jump-start and the kind of improvement the 2-1 Cajuns are after this Saturday, when they host FIU at 6 p.m. at Cajun Field in the conference home opener and the first of three home games in four weeks. Seven days later, the Cajuns entertain Tulane for Homecoming on Oct. 6, and host Arkansas State in a Tuesday night national-TV matchup on Oct. 23.

Mark Hudspeth and the Ragin' Cajuns still have their eyes firmly on the Sun Belt prize.Mark Hudspeth and the Ragin' Cajuns still have their eyes firmly on the Sun Belt prize.

Last year's 36-31 road win over the Panthers -- who were receiving votes in the AP poll after a 3-0 start that included wins over Louisville and Central Florida -- was part of an early six-game UL win streak and was the first of four straight Sun Belt wins.

"Winning there catapulted us," said senior quarterback Blaine Gautier. "It was big. They were knocking on the door of getting into the Top 25, and that helped us get started. It made us better."

It was also the first game that Gautier ran a one-man show at quarterback, after splitting time with Chris Masson through UL's first three outings. The Lutcher product responded with three touchdown passes in his coming-out party, and ended up throwing for a school-record 2,958 yards and 23 scores for the year.

The Cajun defense also rose to the task, stopping FIU on downs in UL territory with four minutes left and getting a game-saving Lionel Stokes interception at the Cajun 17 on the game's final play.

"A lot of it was we kept it simple down there last year," Hudspeth said. "We had a couple of new wrinkles, but mostly as a team that chemistry started to jell at that point. We settled on a quarterback in that game ... he had taken every rep in practice that week. That makes a difference."

Hudspeth is hoping for a similar spark this week against the 1-3 Panthers, who were picked as preseason favorites to win the Sun Belt title. FIU dropped a tight 28-21 home decision to No. 17 Louisville last Saturday, while the Cajuns were open following a struggling 65-24 loss at Oklahoma State the previous weekend.

"I'm glad to be back in game week," Hudspeth said. "Last week was good for us in a lot of ways, but sometimes you'd rather have that quick turnaround after a game like that."

The open week did allow extra time for Gautier to rest bruised ribs he suffered in the 37-24 win at Troy that opened Sun Belt play.

"I feel a lot better," Gautier said. "The week helped me regain some strength. We went back to the drawing board some, and we've already been looking at film on FIU so I feel like we have an edge there."

This time, though, the roles are a little reversed. The Cajuns are riding a six-game home winning streak and tied with Middle Tennessee atop the early Sun Belt standings, even though the offense has yet to match the effectiveness of last season.

"We're definitely close," Gautier said. "We have to turn around the three-and-outs, we've had way too many of those, and sometimes we've been a little sluggish. But what better time for us to start hitting on all cylinders, with us coming back home and playing a hungry FIU team."

JAGS WIN, JAGS WIN: Don't throw dirt onto the grave that was Southern's Jaguar football team a week ago.

With a coach only one week on the job and coming off a disgusting effort against SWAC doormat Mississippi Valley State, the Jaguars somehow broke out to a 28-0 lead over Jackson State last Saturday in Jackson, Miss.

It got interesting at the end, but Southern held on for a 28-21 win to give interim coach Dawson Odums his first victory.

"This is for our fans," Odums told the Baton Rouge Advocate after the game. "Jag Nation is going to celebrate tonight."

Nine days earlier, nobody was celebrating except for the visiting Valley team after an unfortunately-televised 6-0 Jaguar loss that cost third-year coach Stump Mitchell his job. Mitchell, who has been reassigned in the athletic department, was in the stands at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium Saturday, undoubtedly uncomfortable with his unusual game location but likely happy that his former players had found some measure of success.

"Like he (Mitchell) has been telling people, there's talent on this football team," Odums said. "Coach Mitchell left me with a good football team, and I'm going to do what he had set in place."

Surprisingly, that may not be that difficult. Even with the early struggles, Southern is only one-half game out of the lead in the SWAC Western Division at 1-1, trailing Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-1). The teams picked to contend in the West, Grambling and Prairie View, are both 0-2.

Both SU and Grambling make the "agriculture and mechanical" tour this week, Southern traveling to face Florida A&M in Atlanta and the Tigers playing at Alabama A&M.

WHICH EVANGEL?: The only question remaining in Thibodaux Saturday night was whether Evangel University, Nicholls State's weekend football foe, could handle Shreveport's Evangel Christian Academy -- one of the state's top-ranked prep football teams.

After the host Colonels pummeled the collegiate Evangel by a 73-17 score on Saturday, it was at least debatable.

Nicholls, coming off a 66-16 loss at Tulsa one week earlier, compiled some amazing numbers in its first win of the year. Quarterback Landry Klann threw for 262 yards and three scores. Tuskani Figaro and Marcus Washington combined to run for 244 yards and five touchdowns. NSU finished with 361 pass yards and 390 rush yards and never punted against the overmatched NAIA Crusaders.

Figaro, a former quarterback and linebacker at Lafayette High at 6-3 and 210 pounds, has stepped into sharing QB duties with Klann since returning starter LaQuintin Caston broke a collarbone against Tulsa. Figaro operated out of the "Wildcat" most of the day against Evangel and found huge success running the ball with his first three collegiate touchdowns.

"He's a little different style runner than LaQuintin," Nicholls coach Charlie Stubbs told the Thibodaux Daily Comet. "LaQuintin is more elusive, but Tuskani is elusive and more powerful. He's still a young guy, but just think what he will do when he gets a year in the weight room."

SOUTHLAND SHAKEUP: After one week of league play, look who's leading the Southland Conference. Also, look who's not leading.

Southeastern Louisiana's 25-24 shocker over favored McNeese State not only snapped the Lions' three-game loss streak to start the season, it also put SLU atop the early league standings at 1-0. Also with the Lions at 1-0 is Central Arkansas, who pulled off a surprise of its own in downing defending national FCS runner-up Sam Houston State 24-20.

SLU gave up three touchdowns in Saturday's first 22 minutes and trailed 24-10 at halftime before its 15 unanswered second-half points. The Lions scored an apparent tying touchdown with 2:39 left, following a fake punt that turned into a 27-yard completion from punter Beau Mothe to long snapper Rogers Mueller to keep the drive alive.

After Nathan Stanley's TD pass to Taylor Jenkins, McNeese picked up an illegal formation penalty on the point-after kick. SLU first-year coach Ron Roberts didn't hesitate to go for the go-ahead two-point conversion with the ball inside the two-yard-line after the penalty.

"I knew we had a chance to ice this game," Roberts said. "I just believed we could get a yard and a half."

Running back Michael Chaney got that distance, tumbling into the end zone for the 25-24 lead. SLU iced the game moments later when Robert Alford intercepted a pass on the Cowboys' first offensive play after the kickoff.

 
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