Experience up front a key to Cajuns’ offensive success

Daniel Quave credits being prepared, and UL-Lafayette offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue cites communication. Ragin’ Cajun offensive coordinator Jay Johnson says it comes down to experience.

Mykhael Quave credits yoga, and Cajun head coach Mark Hudspeth admits it takes a little luck along the way.

Whatever the reason, the consistency of UL-Lafayette’s offensive front over the past three years is little short of amazing, and the envy of virtually every college football program in the country. Not by coincidence, the most successful three-year period in Cajun football history parallels a number that surprises even those involved.

In each of the last three seasons, the five offensive linemen who started the opening week of the season have started every other game the rest of the year. That’s 13 straight games with no lineup changes in the front wall all the way back to the 2011 season when the Cajuns made their first-ever Division I bowl appearance.

In other words, once each season began, the UL-Lafayette staff hasn’t had to change the top line of the OL depth chart since 2010, before Hudspeth arrived.

“I’d have to put my thinking cap on to see if I could ever remember anyone having a streak like we have here,” said Rodrigue, who arrived with Hudspeth prior to the 2011 season and serves as running game coordinator. “We’ve been very, very fortunate that we haven’t had any significant injuries in any offensive line positions.”

“I never thought about it until this season,” said junior tackle Mykhael Quave, who has started all 26 games in his first two seasons and still doesn’t have the longest streak in his family. “It’s a huge advantage. You don’t have to try to rebuild the chemistry ... week in and week out, you know what you’re going to get from the person beside you, and the person beside you knows what they’re going to get from you.”

Last year, when the Cajuns compiled their third straight 9-4 season and won their third straight R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Daniel Quave started at right guard, Mykhael Quave at left tackle, Terry Johnson at left guard and Octravian Anderson at right tackle for the opener at Arkansas. All four started at those same positions every week along with now-departed center Andre Huval, all the way through the bowl game.

It would have been remarkable, had it not become matter-of-fact.

Huval and Daniel Quave started UL-Lafayette’s first game under Hudspeth at Oklahoma State along with guard Kyle Plouhar and tackles Jaron Odom and Leonardo Bates. that lineup didn’t change the rest of the year, and the only change entering 2012 was little brother Mykhael taking over for the graduated Plouhar at left guard. Once again, all five started all 13 games.

Before last season, Johnson and Anderson stepped in and kept the tradition going.

“When our five guys up front were right last year,” Johnson said, “they did some pretty good things.”

What they did was lead UL-Lafayette to more first downs (283) and more touchdowns (59) than any team in school history as well as the second-highest total offense output and one of the nation’s best red-zone percentages (scoring 86.3 percent of red-zone possessions).

Going three seasons without a significant injury doesn’t just happen by chance, the Gautier, Miss.-based Quave brothers said.

“We do a lot of things to prevent injuries,” said Daniel, who enters the Aug. 30 season opener against Southern having started every game for three seasons. “In practice, you want to be physical and get your job done, but the most important thing is taking care of your teammate because that’s who you’re going to war with. You don’t want to be the one causing him not to be able to go out and perform on Saturday, so maturity does play a huge role in the health factor.”

“It’s a testament to the strength staff always staying on us about keeping our ankle and knee flexibility,” said Mykhael, the younger by just under 14 months. “We do stretches so that if you do get rolled up, your body’s ready for it. We do a lot of yoga poses, things of that nature for the joints, getting them as strong as possible.”

Few expect much to change this season, even though the unit has to replace a major cog in three-year center starter and St. Thomas More product Huval. That position is the offense’s most-watched in fall camp, with redshirt freshman Grant Horst and sophomore transfer Eddie Gordon vying to join the ranks of the seemingly unbreakable.

Hudspeth said a decision at center may come as early as after Saturday’s first full-scale scrimmage.

“It all comes down to the center getting us going in the right direction, studying film, making the calls and knowing what he’s doing,” Hudspeth said. “He may not be able to tell all five what to do like Huval did, he was so good at getting us going, so everybody else is going to have to know their role and do their job.

“The plus is they’re surrounded by four returning starters. Daniel Quave’s started 39 straight games, so it won’t be his first rodeo.”

The four returnees actually total 91 starts among them, which helps with what Rodrigue termed a language barrier.

“Terry, Mike, Daniel, Octravian, we all talk the same language right now,” Rodrigue said. “The other guys, they’re speaking Chinese. We have got to get them up to par right now.”