LAFAYETTE – No offense to senior tight end Nick Byrne, said Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, but he shouldn’t be the guy who winds up with the Cajuns most explosive play.
Except that was the case last week against Akron. Byrne rumbled for 23 yards on his first catch of the season, and it was the only play of 20 or more yards the Cajuns managed.
“That’s one thing I mentioned to the coaches, you know we’ve got guys like Jamal Robinson and Elijah McGuire and Al Riles and some of these guys who can really run … and our tight end makes the biggest play of the game,” Hudspeth said. “Nothing bad about Nick, … but we need our big-time players to make some bigger plays for us.”
That’s a point of emphasis for the Cajuns this week, particularly with regards to McGuire and Robinson, the Cajuns two most explosive players.
Three games into the season, McGuire and Robinson haven’t quite found their launching pads over and through opposing defenses – at least not with the consistent degree of success they’ve shown throughout their careers.
McGuire has recorded two 20-plus yard runs – both for touchdowns against Northwestern State – and hauled in a 43-yard pass against Kentucky on a wheel route. Robinson has caught one pass longer than 20 yards – a 58-yarder, also against Northwestern State.
Take the Northwestern State game out of the equation, and McGuire (43 carries, 169 yards) and Robinson (8 catches, 83 yards) have turned in more pedestrian numbers than they’ve been accustomed to putting up throughout their careers.
Part of the lack of big plays can be traced back to the offseason. Robinson is coming off a pair of injuries that ended what would’ve been his senior season, and coaches made him take it easy as the season ramped up.
Robinson missed all of spring practice and was limited in what he could do during summer practices. Hudspeth admitted earlier this season that he may have been too cautious getting Robinson up to speed.
“I think I should’ve gotten a little more reps, gotten a little more physical with the defense, get tackled a couple times,” Robinson said. “Get the feeling. It’d been a year. I think I should’ve gotten more reps, scrimmaged more, got full contact, got tackled to the ground. That sort of stuff.”
McGuire also missed spring practice, and coaches eased him into working shape this summer as they prepared him for what would be the largest workload of his career.
It’d be foolish to say McGuire’s struggled this year. He still carries a robust 5.8 yards per carry average and he’s scored five touchdowns heading into this weekend’s games. But the Cajuns have been going through a learning period of figuring out the best way to use McGuire in a feature back role.
Particularly, they’ve been trying to figure out the best way to put McGuire in position to do the dazzling things he did throughout his first two years.
That could involve using McGuire more in the passing game, or finding clever ways to get him in the open field, where his next-level agility is most lethal.
McGuire isn’t concerning himself with schematic questions though. He’s focusing on making sure he does what’s asked of him to the best of his ability.
“I think what needs to happen for me to make the plays the coaches want me to make, (running backs coach Marquase) Lovings preaches about it all the time: getting on the point of attack,” McGuire said. “I don’t think I did a good job of that starting the season. I think getting on my point of attack for this game is going to be really important.
“That just to get the defense to think I’m going one way then go back the other way. Maybe I could break some big runs.”
McGuire’s confident he’s going to get rolling. As he said Tuesday, “the game’s going to come.”