* Has the injury bug caught up to the Ragin' Cajuns, and does not having Blaine Gautier taking snaps at quarterback make that big a difference to the entire team?
* Has the UL defense been exposed as ordinary if that unit doesn't either force or benefit from turnovers?
* Most important, can the Cajuns regroup against a rugged schedule over the next four weeks and still reach bowl eligibility, which this year will likely still mean a bowl bid?
The answers, in order: Yes, yes and possibly.
The Cajuns have been a walking-wounded corps offensively for the past month, and it's caught up with them in the last two games. Against North Texas in a surprising 30-23 loss and again Tuesday night, UL showed little consistency in moving the ball and finishing drives.
Most of that has to do with turnovers — seven of them in the last six quarters, including five on Tuesday from the quarterback position.
"Five turnovers, and didn't get any," said an exasperated coach Mark Hudspeth. "That's critical. We did such a good job of that early, and that's disappointing."
Defensively, in addition to not forcing ASU to give up the ball once, the Cajuns allowed 526 offensive yards to a Red Wolves team that only collected 316 one game earlier against new league member South Alabama. ASU had 13 possessions on Tuesday and scored on 10 of those — five touchdowns and five field goals from Brian Davis, three of them from 29 or fewer yards.
"We've got to cause some turnovers," Hudspeth said. "That's one of our plans to win, is win the turnover battle. If we won the turnover battle, we would have won the game tonight."
That's saying a lot in a 23-point game, but the Cajuns did enough on the offensive side to possibly do that had they not turned the ball over. UL had 450 offensive yards, 388 of those coming from quarterback Terrance Broadway, and scored on all of its red-zone trips. But Broadway, starting for the third game due to Gautier's broken left (throwing) hand, was picked off three times and had two fumbles while being sacked.
The loss — the first at home since Hudspeth became head coach prior to last year, a string of eight straight games — drops the Cajuns to 4-3 and 2-2 in the league heading into a Nov. 3 road battle against Sun Belt Conference leader UL Monroe (5-2, 3-0). After that, it's a trip to face a top-five team in Florida, and then back home to meet a Western Kentucky squad that has crunched the Cajuns two straight years, and which led 28-7 against ULM before stumbling for the entire second half.
If UL doesn't win one of those, they'll need to win the two season finales — the Nov. 24 final home game against South Alabama and the Dec. 1 regular-season wrapup at Florida Atlantic — just to finish at bowl-eligible 6-6. Those two teams are a combined 3-11 overall heading into this weekend.
The future silver lining is that, even with a 6-6 overall mark and a 4-4 Sun Belt record, UL will still be in a position to play in its second straight bowl game. Since several teams are not eligible to play bowls this year — Ohio State, Penn State, North Carolina — and with several FBS teams losing games to FCS opponents, whether 70 teams out of the currently 117 eligible FBS teams makes it to bowl eligibility is an iffy proposition.
The NCAA board of directors last week approved some additional regulations to ensure that bowls will be filled with teams, setting up pools of available teams, but the first priority will go to teams that meet the current requirements. That means that 6-6 teams are pretty much assured of bowl bids, depending on what happens between now and early December.
UL isn't thinking about that right now, though. The Cajuns have to be more concerned about holding onto the football, and taking it away from their opponents. That's what they did last year, when they went 9-4 and won the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. And that's the biggest thing they're not doing right now.
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