TROY, Ala. — When the Louisiana-Lafayette football team’s running game is operating at its peak, it’s hard for the defense to figure out where the ball is going next.
With running backs Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire and quarterback Terrance Broadway, the Ragin’ Cajuns have a variety of tools at their disposal to attack a defense, and that was on display in Saturday’s 42-23 regular season-ending win at Troy.
Each of the three players topped 75 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown. The Cajuns opened up the running game on the perimeter with sweeps and off-tackle plays to McGuire, something coach Mark Hudspeth said the team didn’t do well enough in last week’s loss to Appalachian State.
“We didn’t have a very good perimeter plan last week, and we wanted to make sure we could mix it up a little more. And I thought it worked out well,” Hudspeth said.
With the defense spread out to cover the perimeter, the Cajuns hit them in the middle with Harris — and sometimes McGuire. Most if not all of Harris’ 86 rushing yards and three touchdowns came between the tackles, as did McGuire’s 75-yard touchdown run.
“I saw the safety down, and the corner went with the motion,” McGuire said. “Everything flowed to the right, and the (offensive line) did a great job blocking and opening a hole for me.”
And when the defense keys on the two stud running backs, Broadway rides a play fake and takes the corner on option keepers.
On top of the gaudy rushing stats — the Cajuns’ 344 rushing yards Saturday were their second-best total this season — it also consistently gave the Cajuns manageable third downs.
When the Cajuns have all phases of their rushing attack working as they did against Troy, they’re a difficult group to stop.
Heading into conference play, the Cajuns had one of the worst turnover margins in college football. They only forced one turnover in the first four games and turned the ball over 10 times for a minus-9 turnover margin.
Since that time, the Cajuns have turned that stat on its head and then some. After another turnover-free game Saturday, the Cajuns finished their conference slate by turning the ball over just three times. They forced 15 turnovers in that same stretch, giving them a plus-12 turnover margin in conference play and pushing their season margin to plus-3.
The Cajuns’ plus-12 turnover margin in conference play was the best mark in the Sun Belt.
Two to tango
Christian Ringo spent most of the conference slate assaulting the Cajuns’ record books, and a couple of weeks ago he looked like a sure bet to shatter the Cajuns’ single-season records for sacks and tackles for loss.
But opponents took notice of Ringo’s ability to create havoc in the backfield, and they have been taking measures to take him out of the game.
Ringo has been shut out in those statistical categories in each of the past two weeks, as teams have been assigning two blockers to him at all times.
Hudspeth said last week that the only way to get teams to stop doing that is for the Cajuns’ other pass rushers to win the one-on-one battles created by teams focusing more attention on Ringo.
Troy fought a spirited battle to take a 23-21 lead at halftime Saturday, but it had some help from the Cajuns. The Trojans started to come back when they were the beneficiary of a tough-luck play on the Cajuns part in the first quarter.
After the Cajuns came up with a goal-line stop, they took over at their own 2-yard line. But Terry Johnson’s snap to Broadway skipped, and the Cajuns were hit with a safety when Broadway kneeled to recover the ball.
“That was just a point of us shooting ourselves in the foot,” Hudspeth said. “It was a bad snap. … We can’t make those mistakes (near our own end zone).”