Tonight’s installment in the mid-October tradition that is #FunBeltTuesday features burgeoning rivals Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette in familiar roles. The Red Wolves host the Ragin’ Cajuns with both teams undefeated in early Sun Belt Conference play, and each as leading contenders for the league title.
In much the same vein November Tuesdays and Wednesdays gave rise to the Mid-American Conference through #MACtion, the midweek affairs have put #FunBelt football on the map.
“Anytime our conference gets to play on Tuesday night is great exposure,” said ULL head coach Mark Hudspeth on the Sun Belt conference call this week. “You’re the only game on in the country…You play on Tuesday, you’re the only game in town.”
It’s fitting that two of the leagues banner-carriers get the national stage afforded by the ESPN2 broadcast. Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette has grown into something of a rivalry, and the marquee matchup for the conference. Tonight is no exception.
Since 2011, one of either Arkansas State or Louisiana-Lafayette won the Sun Belt three times. The two split the championship in 2013, though ULL won the head-to-head meeting.
Don’t let their current records fool you. Arkansas State sits at 3-3, it ran a nonconference gauntlet of USC, Missouri and Toledo. ULL is 2-3, stumbling against Akron and Louisiana Tech, but it pressed the SEC’s Kentucky Wildcats in Week 1 to a 40-33 final. Either should be firmly entrenched in the Sun Belt title race come November, though winning tonight is crucial for keeping pace with Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
Both Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette ride in on a positive trajectory. The Red Wolves’ win in last week’s edition of #FunBeltTuesday was among the more raucous outcomes of the season thus far, featuring a 29-point fourth quarterback from Arkansas State at South Alabama.
“It was just kind of a feeding frenzy in terms of tempo, making plays and putting pressure on the quarterback” said head coach Blake Anderson. “I’d never been part of 5:17 of a 29-point turnaround, but I think that’s something that builds tremendous confidence in our kids.”
The “feeding frenzy” began with a Fredi Knighten touchdown pass to Tres Houston…
…then a Johnston White touchdown rush 2:17 later…
…a Chris Jones fumble recovery in the end zone after a Cody Clements sack, and finally, Justin Clifton’s 37-yard pick-six.
This is the kind of madness that unfolds on a #FunBeltTuesday.
With the confidence to which Anderson alluded, the Red Wolves are dangerous in the Sun Belt. Last week’s fourth quarter may be a microcosm of the deluge to come. Louisiana-Lafayette is trying to build similar momentum after a much-needed win.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have the pieces to reach nine wins as they have each of the last four seasons under Hudspeth, and last week’s Sun Belt-opening rout of Texas State was a step in that direction.
Turning over the offense to quarterback Jalen Nixon was Hudspeth’s key adjustment to ready the Ragin’ Cajuns for a conference championship push, and Nixon delivered with an Offensive Player of the Week performance at 22-of-29 with three touchdowns.
Nixon’s early performance against an Arkansas State defense reliant on an aggressive pass rush should set the stage for this one. If it’s anything like past Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette meetings, expect a back-and-forth pace set early. Should be #Fun.