LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth is well aware of hindsight’s perfect acuity.
Looking back on it now, he acknowledged that his quarterback situation could’ve been handled better than it was in August and September, when the team could not decide between Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon — although some of that was based on an injury Nixon suffered after rallying the team from a big deficit in the season opener.
“The way it worked wasn’t always the way it was planned,” Hudspeth said. “After Jalen played the second half against Kentucky, he would’ve started the next week against Northwestern (State), but then he was injured and he couldn’t. So then Brooks comes in and plays, and plays OK, so then he sort of earns the start for the next week. A lot of that ended up being because of things that happened and not just decisions that we made. It was decisions beyond our control.”
Had Hudspeth known his team was headed for a 4-8 season, there’s also a chance redshirt freshman Jordan Davis would’ve gotten more playing time early. That being said, there’s no guarantee the season would’ve played out any better had the quarterback position been handled differently.
“It’s really a moot point,” Hudspeth said. “Hindsight is 20/20. Would we have been more competitive? Would we have been more competitive offensively? Don’t know that; will never know that. We just felt like (Haack’s and Nixon’s) quality game experience was the edge and (Davis) needed some more time to simmer.”
Here’s how it played out for the Cajuns: Haack started the first three games and the final five, throwing for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns with seven interceptions. Nixon started four games in the middle of the season and spent the latter portion of the year as a situational player, finishing with seven touchdown passes and an additional five rushing scores. Davis did not earn a start but played the vast majority of the Cajuns’ 41-17 loss to Troy in the season finale, and he led the Cajuns’ lone scoring drive the week before in the defeat at Appalachian State.
Early in the season, the Cajuns struggled to find their identity with a revolving door at quarterback. When the offense couldn’t generate a running game during the late stretches of the year, the passing game was infrequently there to pick it up. The result was the lowest per-game scoring average (26.8) of Hudspeth’s tenure.
“The teams that have really good quarterbacks are, perennially, the best teams,” Hudspeth said. “That’s not just for the Sun Belt Conference; that’s pretty much the norm. If you’ve got a really good quarterback, especially an experienced guy, typically you’re going to have an opportunity to be pretty successful offensively.”
After the rough year at the position, the Cajuns’ eyes are now turned toward a somewhat uncertain future. Do the Cajuns open up the competition in the spring? Does Nixon remain at quarterback or move to running back, as Hudspeth has hinted at? Will the Cajuns turn the keys over to the talented but largely inexperienced Davis to inject some life into their once-potent offense?
Hudspeth said he wasn’t sure what to expect when Davis took the majority of the snaps against Troy. Since Davis was the No. 3 quarterback, Hudspeth said he got the fewest practice repetitions of any of the QBs — including scout-team freshmen Dion Ray and Chris Weaver.
“The third-team quarterback just sort of sits there and signals all year,” Hudspeth said. “He had no development. For him to come in and get one week of practice ... and play at the level he played, I was pretty impressed. He obviously made a couple mistakes, but we were prepared to live with those and expected those, but I thought his productivity also was strong.”
Whether it’s Davis, Haack or Nixon, odds are that the Cajuns will make a decision early and stick with it, then build their offense around that player.
Hindsight, in this case, won’t help the Cajuns erase the ugly 4-8 mark that will forever stand next to 2015. But it can serve as a guiding force when trying to avoid running into the same problems again.