The statistics and milestones may have been impressive, but University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth was more pleased with the process rather than his team’s Saturday night results.
The Ragin’ Cajuns set a couple of school records and several “first-time-since” landmarks in Saturday’s runaway 70-7 win over state foe Nicholls State, but Hudspeth talked more in his Monday news briefing about what went into the high-scoring effort. Specifically, he credited his team’s rebuilt offensive line.
“We’re making progress,” he said. “We didn’t ask them to pass-block a lot and kept the game plan simple, and that helped them. But with our tackles, the more they play, the better they’re going to be.”
After starting the same fivesome for two seasons in the offensive front — solidarity that Hudspeth credits for much of the team’s offensive success in those nine-win seasons — the Cajuns have faces in new places. Mykhael Quave shifted from guard to left tackle, and right tackle Octravian Anderson and left guard Terry Johnson are new starters.
That unit admittedly struggled at times in the opening losses at Arkansas and Kansas State, but Quave said Saturday was an indication of the line’s rounding into shape.
“We’re a lot more comfortable,” Quave said. “We’re starting to get the swagger that an offensive line needs as a whole. When we got on the field this time we weren’t nervous. It was more like hoping we’d call this play so I can dominate my opponent or this play so I can give (quarterback Terrance) Broadway time to make that throw.”
The Cajuns (1-2) didn’t have to throw much in getting their first win of the season, with former Capitol standout Broadway completing 10-of-13 passes for 149 yards in a half and one second-half series. The aerial game wasn’t needed since the hosts rushed for 456 yards and eight of the team’s record-setting 10 touchdowns.
“Any time you rush for 465 yards, that’s hard to do against the scout team,” Hudspeth said, “so give those guys up front a lot of credit.”
“We were winning the line of scrimmage,” Quave said. “At the point of attack, we were getting push off the ball and setting a new line of scrimmage two or three yards upfield. That makes it easy for a running back to pick a hole.”
The Cajuns had four running backs go for 64 or more yards, led by the 137-yard effort of true freshman Elijah McGuire in a breakout performance. McGuire, a former Vandebilt Catholic standout, also had three touchdowns, including a sterling 42-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter, and became the first freshman with a 100-yard rush game since Alonzo Harris in 2011.
Harris set an early tone with a 65-yard scoring run on the game’s third play from scrimmage.
The big offensive numbers overshadowed a defensive performance that limited the Colonels to 15-of-40 pass completions and forced five turnovers. Nicholls State rolled up 447 yards one week earlier in its surprising 27-23 road win at FBS foe Western Michigan.
“We got much better defensively,” Hudspeth said. “We continued to improve in the secondary ... those guys weren’t threatened as much, but the things we had thrown at us we were prepared for. We tackled better, guys were getting to their gaps and getting their assignments. We’re still immature in playing time and experience, but they’re going to get better.
“We’re creating depth, especially in the defensive line, and that’s going to pay dividends before the season is over.”
That defense will likely be tested more Saturday when the Cajuns travel to face Akron (1-2) in their third road game in four weeks. The Zips were a four-touchdown underdog at 11th-ranked Michigan last Saturday but led in the final five minutes and missed three times inside the Wolverine 5 in the final 15 seconds in a 28-24 loss.
Akron is coached by former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, who followed Hudspeth at Division II power North Alabama before taking over the Zips last year.
“They’ve got a very talented defensive team,” Hudspeth said. “Their D-line is as active as any I’ve ever seen. They took their lumps last year (1-11) when they had some transfers sitting out, and they’re now eligible. I know that Terry is going to get that program back where they want it pretty quick.”
“What they did at Michigan just confirms to us not to take any opponent lightly,” Quave said. “We’re going to approach it like we were playing Alabama, focus on their tendencies and not on that they were 1-11.”