With certified ‘swag,’ ULL’s line powers the offense

LAFAYETTE — If Mykhael Quave needs positive reinforcement, all he needs to do is cast a furtive sideline glance toward Louisiana-Lafayette offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue.

The junior left tackle said Rodrigue normally becomes animated when the Ragin’ Cajuns linemen open holes for a running attack that leads the Sun Belt Conference.

“It makes me feel great when we dominate the line of scrimmage. It gives me a sense of achievement, but to see (Rodrigue), I do it pretty much for him because he trusted me enough for me to carry out my job,” Quave said. “Just to see Coach Rod jumping around the sideline, his stomach hanging out, that‘s great.”

Rodrigue has had a lot to get excited about lately: The ULL running attack has been the offensive focal point in the Cajuns’ past two victories, against Western Kentucky and Arkansas State.

ULL ran for 254 yards in a 37-20 win at WKU on Oct. 15 and then added 265 yards — helping establish more than 42 minutes of possession — in a 23-7 win over ASU on Oct. 22.

Those games made the Cajuns the top rushing team in the league (229 yards per game). Junior running back Alonzo Harris (549 yards) and freshman Elijah McGuire (425) have been the key backfield producers for a rushing game that has 1,605 net yards this season. ULL is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and the Cajuns have scored 19 touchdowns on the ground.

Quave said it took a few games for the linemen to develop cohesiveness, but now that pinnacle is being reached.

“In the spring, we were just getting a feel for each other. And then in the summer, that’s when we started getting a bit more chemistry,” he said. “And then in camp, that’s when we started to get friends with one another and get that swag about ourselves. Now we’re seeing the fruits of our labor, so to speak.”

Rodrigue, Quave said, is always quick to show in players’ meetings that things can be done better.

“We go over the film and we see the things we do wrong. We don’t worry about what happened on the plays where we did things right,” Quave said. “We’ve set our standards high.”

The Cajuns began the season at Arkansas, with Quave playing left tackle for the first time. Also new were left guard Terry Johnson, a former backup center, and Octravian Anderson, a sophomore starting his first college game.

Things didn‘t go well against Arkansas for the linemen, but it was the start of an evolutionary process that took off in earnest the following week.

“I would say for us it was the Kansas State game,” Quave said. “We didn’t do that well, but I felt we started coming together.”

Quave said the swag factor for the linemen became a reality against Nicholls State in the 70-7 win.

“In that Nicholls game, we really got it rolling and we just dominated the game — and the games after that, it’s been like that,” he said. “If (the linemen) had our choice, we would tell (offensive coordinator Jay Johnson) we want to run the ball on every play. We love to run. That’s showcasing us and what we can do at the line of scrimmage.”

Although the running game has been successful lately, ULL coach Mark Hudspeth said that’s not the way the offense is designed.

“We want to establish the run. For me, that’s how you win games — that and playing good defense, he said. “When you run the ball effectively, it opens up play action and some other things we like to do. They are getting more physical more confident in what we’re doing, and I like the direction our team is going right now.”

Hudspeth said the changes in the offensive line have proved successful.

“We had Quave over there at guard last year out of necessity. It was an easy move for him,” he said. “(Anderson) is probably the most improved of the five because he is a first-year starter. I think the biggest thing about the offensive line is they are all on the same page. ... We’ve got a quarterback, a coach playing center (in Andre Huval), and he gets all five guys working in perfect cohesion and all the right blocking.

“That’s been a huge part of our third success. (Huval) has a complete understanding of what we are doing and a complete understanding of defensive schemes. He’s just doing a phenomenal job, especially when you have two young guys on the edges. To me, (Huval) has been the most critical part of it.”