Where is everybody?

by Walter Pierce

The Cajuns are on a four-game win streak and the stadium is half full. What gives, y'all?

Photo by Buddy Delahoussaye

Take a few moments and travel back to this past August, a time of great expectations for the 2014 UL Ragin Cajuns. A time of "big talk" as Coach Mark Hudspeth later described the period. Once there you will probably notice more than a few self-described "die-hard Cajun fans" sulking in a corner clutching their dreams of major bowls and a Top 25 ranking. It's true some have moved on with their lives. But wherever they have gone it hasn't been to Cajun Field.

Last Saturday on a perfect autumn evening full of Homecoming activities, the Cajuns beat one of their biggest Sun Belt rivals, South Alabama, 19-9. At stake was a share of first place in the conference. Officially, 25,861 took the time to witness the event; the smallest Homecoming crowd in the Hudspeth era.

{igallery id=5244|cid=124|pid=5|type=category|children=0|addlinks=0|tags=|limit=0}Granted, Saturday's attendance was a cool 10,000 more than the last pre-Hudspeth Homecoming in 2010. But that year crowds averaged 17,383 and UL ranked 107th in the nation. Hudspeth's first season sparked a spectacular increase to 29,171 a game and a ranking of 78th. The following year the Cajuns started 4-1 only to suffer consecutive losses. The second was 57-20 dumpster fire to Arkansas State at Cajun Field that apparently frightened fans away. Despite finishing 4-1 (the loss was literally in the last second to Florida) the last three home games averaged only 20,173.

Last season's attendance rebounded thanks in large part to 30,008 honoring Homecoming and 28,871 hounding FCS member Nicholls State. Average attendance for 2013 was 25,975. This year another FCS institution, Southern University, will boost UL's attendance. For the opener 36,170 traveled from Baton Rouge or left their local sofas to see the Human Jukebox. But when the Cajuns really needed them the next week many fans apparently found other things to do.  Against Louisiana Tech a crowd of 10,000 fewer took the time to watch UL play its oldest rival. Hudspeth had to be disappointed. At Media Day he had predicted "a standing room sellout crowd for two in-state rivals." Cajun Field seats 38,000.

Disappointment ruled September. UL running back Elijah McGuire said, "We were kind of down at the beginning of the season because we weren't winning any games." Not that winning would have been easy. At 1-3 their three losses were to Tech (6-3), Ole Miss (7-2) and Boise State (6-2). A thrilling 34-31 win over Georgia State at Cajun Field started the Cajun's comeback and their current 4-game winning streak.

So why the complaint about attendance? The first impulse is to go full Saban and yell at absent fans about how hard coaches and players work and how players risk serious injury just to entertain their fans, then snidely characterize them as unappreciative and spoiled. As Nick might say, "What's the point of consistent success, three consecutive 9-4 seasons for example, if fans don't respect the process and become blasé?"

A nobler reason to call out missing fans is to alert them to what they are missing. Here is what they have missed so far, in alphabetical order:

Terrance Broadway - Still the best quarterback in the Sun Belt. Maybe not as effective as last year but the guy is still a gamer. Future Cajun fans will pray for a leader with his toughness and resilience because they will have not seen a Terrance in years. His kind are very rare. My current favorite Broadway play (it changes weekly): On second and 10 from the USA 35 Broadway before the snap spots a blitzing linebacker. As he shots a gap over right guard Broadway passes him headed in the other direction over left guard. The fourteen yard run leads to the tying field goal.

Cajun Defense - Middle linebacker Justin Anderson is missed but a mix of veterans (Jake Molbert, Dominique Tovell) and newcomers (Darzil Washington, TJ Worthy) provides speed and toughness. And then there's mystery man Tre'Maine Lightfoot. Not listed on the preseason roster Lightfoot started against USA and played well. Freshmen Travis Crawford and Tracy Walker look set as safeties for years to come. And of course something interesting is always happening near cornerback Corey Trim.

Alonzo Harris - Although playing through injuries Harris has 9 touchdowns and averages 62 yards a game. That's 62 tough short-yardage yards. At 6'1" 238 a future NFL player.

Elijah McGuire - Leads the nation in yards per carry at 8.8. Second in the Sun Belt in rushing. The most exciting running back to cut up on Cajun Field since multiple Hall of Famer Barry Sanders visited with Oklahoma State in 1986. If you didn't see his ankle-breaker against Texas State catch it on youtube. Saturday's highlight was his eight-yard dash for UL's only touchdown. Hard to believe so much can happen in only eight yards. Not to be missed. The next Darren Sproles.

Cajun Offensive Line - Average height: 6'3" weight: 305. Two seniors, three juniors. Received some unwarranted criticism after Saturday for the Cajuns having to settle for field goals in the Red Zone. They were facing a tough USA defense. The real takeaway from the game was that these were the guys who allowed UL to possess the ball for over 11 minutes in the fourth quarter. Winners.

Christian Ringo - The roster says 6'1" 277. I say see for yourself. In the last three games Ringo has 6 sacks (8 for the season), 3 other tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries. He grabbed one and "ran" 41 yards for a touchdown against Texas State. Saturday he made the play of the game. His fumble recovery on the UL 6 yard line preserved a 12-9 Cajun lead with 8 minutes left in the game. Ringo and his sidekick Justin Hamilton 6'2" 310 were the middle of the defense that allowed USA a single field goal from their 9 plays inside the Cajun 10.

Missing Cajun fans should realize it's not too late. They can follow their team to Monroe on Nov. 15. Saturday ULM lost to Texas A&M 21-16 in College Station. And they can fill Cajun Field on Nov. 22 to salute the best UL Ragin Cajun team many of us will ever see.