September 13, 2018 10:38:33 AM
Brett Hudson - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- When Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette scheduled a two-game football series, Dan Mullen and Mark Hudspeth were the connection between the two schools. Hudspeth worked under Mullen at MSU for two years before getting the head job with the Ragin' Cajuns.
Two years later, the series is here and Mullen is gone, but the ties between the two are only stronger.
The first half of the series comes 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) before MSU's trip to New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2019. This year's chapter is guaranteed to have multiple familiar faces looking at each other from the dueling sidelines.
Hudspeth is one of them, the most prominent. Being No. 16 MSU's (2-0) tight ends coach is his first job after his after seven-year run as UL Lafayette's head coach came to an end. He compiled a 95-59 record there, going to the New Orleans Bowl in each of his first four seasons and five of his first six.
"We had the four-year best run in school history and at the time we had the best four-year run in Sun Belt Conference history. Going to four-straight bowl games, 36 wins in four years," Hudspeth said. "Disappointed in the way it ended, I think anybody would be disappointed.
"I definitely don't have any ill will toward the University of Louisiana. They were very good to me. We had a great run and I'm very proud of the accomplishments we had."
As Hudspeth referenced, he did not leave the cupboard bare. Returning quarterback Andre Nunez set a new school record by completing 86.4 percent of his passes in the win over Grambling; running back Trey Ragas ran for 813 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman.
New UL Lafayette coach Billy Napier is enjoying the fruits of that labor.
"I've said openly and publicly that I think UL is a better place because of Coach and what he accomplished here," Napier said on the Sun Belt Conference teleconference. "Not only his success here, but the efforts he put into facility improvements."
Now, Hudspeth's knowledge of that impressive personnel is MSU's gain.
"I think it's a great advantage, particularly when we only have one game of film on them," MSU head coach Joe Moorhead said. "It'll be a normal role in terms of the X's and O's standpoint, but he'll be helpful with personnel."
There will be another commonality in the booth, looking down on his former players as Bulldogs: D.J. Looney.
Looney got the opportunity to come back to his alma mater last season as the tight ends coach, coaching one year before Mullen left. After he was not retained by Joe Moorhead, he landed as an assistant offensive line coach at UL Lafayette.
"D.J. is an experienced player in the SEC, having a chance to play at Mississippi State, the context he adds to the fertile area that we recruit has been critical," Napier said. "He's also done a good job in terms of relationships with our players. He's got a promising career in this profession."
He had a similar hold over his tight ends at MSU.
"Looney was a good guy," Dontea Jones said. "He gave me everything I needed. He was really good to us, we had a great relationship but sometimes it's a business."
Looney will come to Starkville with a team that Hudspeth expects to be particularly motivated. Part of his success at UL Lafayette was recruiting Mississippi well, taking the prospects MSU and Ole Miss did not want and turning them into Sun Belt champions. He knows that group will be motivated to play in Davis Wade Stadium -- particularly wide receiver Ja'Marcus Bradley, an Ackerman native.
"We're going to have our hands full but I think our kids are excited about the opportunity," Napier said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson