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Football: Twenty-one years later – Can UL upset Texas A&M again?

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Sept. 16, 2017

A commemorative edition of The Daily Advertiser was printed Sept. 19, 1996, after the USL Ragin’ Cajuns upset No. 25 Texas A&M. (Photo: The Daily Advertiser) 

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It’s a question on the mind of many Ragin’ Cajuns, especially with UL visiting Texas A&M on Saturday morning here.

Can UL ever repeat an upset the likes of which it pulled off in 1996, when the Cajuns beat then-No. 25 Texas A&M 29-22?

UL’s Mark Hudspeth, for one, thinks they can, despite the fact he is 0-5 against SEC teams (with losses at Florida, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Georgia) and 0-9 against Power 5 teams during his tenure as coach of the Cajuns.

“It’s been done before, you know what I’m saying?” Hudspeth said.

It has, and Cajun coaches reminded their charges of that earlier this week by showing them highlights from ’96 when they also delivered a scouting report on the 2017 Aggies.

Circumstances, of course, are much different now than they were then, when current SEC-member A&M, a longtime member of the now-dissolved Southwest Conference, was playing its first football season in the then-newly formed Big 12.

For starters, Texas A&M isn’t nationally ranked.

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In fact, at 1-1 with a nail-biting 24-14 win over FCS Nicholls State and a season-opening 45-44 loss to UCLA in which coach Kevin Sumlin’s club blew a 34-point lead, it’s nowhere close to that.

So the fact the Aggies don’t seem nearly as good as they were even in 1996, when they finished 6-6 following a season-ending 51-15 loss at Texas, may be one thing working in UL’s favor.


There are more:

One is that Sumlin is a coach on the so-called hot seat, arguably ratcheting the pressure on Texas A&M to not lose to a Sun Belt Conference team.

One member of the Board of Regents for the Texas A&M system, in fact, called for Sumlin’s firing after the loss to UCLA. Sumlin even reportedly was ridiculously on the receiving end of racist hate mail last week.

SI Now co-hosts Maggie Gray and Robin Lundberg share their thoughts on the horrific letter received by the Sumlin family as well as how Aggie fans should react to the hate mail. Time_Sports

All that perhaps prompted the Aggies to play tight against Nicholls, and one can only wonder if — amid increasing heat — it will happen again against the Cajuns?

So there’s that.

Then there’s the Aggies’ quarterback issues, with senior Jake Hubenak, the probable starter behind struggling true freshman Kellen Mond, "likely" out due to a shoulder injury, according to a Texags.com report Friday.

The Cajuns likely would have to come up with multiple turnovers like they did in ’96 to pull another upset, and the A&M QB situation can help UL in that regard.

Big secret: UL’s Hudspeth short on defense details

Turnovers are what helped the Cajuns so much in ’96, when longtime NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme was their QB and Nelson Stokley was their coach.

In the opening quarter, UL led 14-7 behind Damon Mason’s 42-yard pick-six and Charles Johnson’s 17-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery.

In second quarter, UL capped a 17-play, 92-yard drive with Delhomme’s fourth-down TD pass to tight end Cody Romero.

The Aggies led 22-21 lead after three quarters thanks to quarterback Branndon Stewart’s 46-yard option run for a touchdown.

But the Cajuns outscored A&M 8-0 in the fourth quarter for the win as cornerback Britt Jackson returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown and Delhomme hit Brandon Stokley for a two-point conversion with six minutes and 30 seconds remaining.

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The Aggies actually out-rushed the Cajuns 218-98 and out-passed them 218-150, but Stewart was intercepted four times and A&M lost four of its five fumbles for eight total turnovers.

Delhomme, meanwhile, was picked only once and the Cajuns didn’t cough up any fumbles.

The Aggies also had 15 penalties for 124 yards compared to just eight called on the Cajuns for 75 yards.

Those are ingredients for the sort of recipe it will take to stir something up this time around.

If the Cajuns can indeed come up with some critical turnovers, they’ll have to put points on the board to make it happen — and there’s ample evidence they can do that too.

UL scored 51 in a season-opening 51-48 win over FCS Southeastern Louisiana, and its offense scored 42 while running up 597 yards of total offense in a 66-42 loss last Saturday last Tulsa.

A strong run game that keeps the A&M defense honest seems requisite for a win Saturday, and the Cajuns — even with Elijah McGuire off to the NFL this season — have shown they just might have that with youngsters Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell.

Hudspeth: ‘I really like our running backs’

Special teams must show up too, especially against any physically superior opponent, and the Cajuns have shown theirs can, evidenced by Raymond Calais’ two kickoff returns for touchdowns against SLU and SMU-transfer punt returner Ryheem Malone’s sound play to date.

Malone is one of 16 Texans on the Cajuns’ current roster, with starting quarterback Jordan Davis among them, so UL has that going as well.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that’s got a little chip on their shoulder … that didn’t get recruited by Texas A&M, so they wouldn’t love anything more (than) to show those guys that, ‘Hey, man, you missed on me,’” Hudspeth said.

UL’s Malone reps Texas post-Harvey: ‘It meant a lot’

Hudspeth on kick-returner Calais: ‘What a night he had’

Even league history shows it’s possible for Sun Belt teams to knock off bigger, better SEC programs, as — for instance — UL Monroe beat Alabama in 2007 and then-No. 8 Arkansas in 2012 while South Alabama beat Mississippi State just last season.

None of that matters, though, if the Cajun defense can’t make a stop, and here’s where it gets dicey for Hudspeth’s club.

UL yielded not only the 66 points but also 667 yards of total offense at Tulsa, and that won’t cut it no matter who is playing quarterback for the Aggies, no matter who is coaching them and no matter how well the Cajuns can run the ball.

It probably doesn’t help UL that Nicholls played A&M so tight last Saturday, because that could keep the Cajuns from sneaking up on the Aggies in what otherwise could be a trap game of sorts.

More: Cajun defense yields 667 yards in 66-42 loss at Tulsa

Another factor not in UL’s favor this time around is that the 1996 win came at home, in front of 38,783 — a crowd that to this day still stands as the second-largest in Cajun Field history behind only the 41,357 that came for Southern in 2009.

Kyle Field holds 102,773.

It’s highly unlikely the house will be full Saturday considering A&M’s issues so far this season, but in any event not many of the fans who do go will be pulling for the Cajuns.

UL, indeed, has visited Kyle Field a few times since that ’96 win, and the Cajuns got blown out each time, losing 66-0 in 1997, 31-7 in 2002 and 51-7 in 2006. 

Then there’s this to consider:

UL actually has one other win over a Power 5 program post-1996, as it beat Kansas State of the Big 12 at Cajun Field 17-15 in 2009.

The Wildcats also were a 6-6 team that season.

However … the Cajuns are 0-41 against teams in the SEC at the time they played them, and 1-63 all-time against teams currently in the SEC.

So is it doable? It is. But it sure hasn’t been done very often.

Tim Buckley: UL’s Hudspeth searching for answers