LAFAYETTE — It would be understandable if University of Louisiana at Lafayette quarterback Jalen Nixon did not feel like performing his media obligations after losing his grip on his full-time role.
It would’ve been understandable if Brooks Haack would have mailed it in a little bit after being demoted earlier this season. It’s human nature to be disappointed in such circumstances.
Yet here the Cajuns quarterbacks are, in timeshare roles heading into an important road contest against Georgia State, speaking about the benefits of their current situations.
“I feel like there’s a lot of things that we help each other with,” Nixon said. “This will give us the opportunity to really put the team on our back as a duo, pull together and help each other throughout the game.”
The Cajuns’ ongoing quarterback competition — if it can still even be labeled as such — has been lots of things this season, not all of them good. The struggles at the position, and possibly even the weekly shift in who has started, have played a large part in the Cajuns’ slow start.
But one thing it hasn’t been is cutthroat. Through it all, though competing against each other for playing time, both Haack and Nixon have remained supportive of the other.
“It helps when they both have a good attitude like that,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “It would be different if one guy was not on board with that, or frustrated or upset. But these guys are team players, they’re good friends, they work out together, they meet together every day. And they both pull for one another.
“That’s what our program is built upon. It’s next man up, it’s built upon being a great teammate, being unselfish. And we’ve got a lot of unselfish players that are making contributions.”
The two split practice repetitions with both the first- and the second-team offenses Tuesday. Hudspeth has still made it clear he does not yet know how the playing time will unfold for his two quarterbacks, but it looks as though it could depend on what sorts of looks the Georgia State defense presents and who does a better job of exploiting the defense’s weaknesses.
“(Hudspeth) split it up, he kind of did it to our advantages and what he wants us to do during the game,” Haack said. “We both got reps with the ones, both got them with the twos. He’s just going to roll us in and out.”
Haack forced his way back into the conversation last week when he took over for a struggling Nixon on the final drive of the first half. He finished the game, sometimes yielding the field to Nixon in short-yardage situations, and led the Cajuns offense to three touchdowns in a come-from-behind win.
When he was demoted earlier this season, a time in which he was not afforded the same change-of-pace role that Nixon had while Haack started the first three games, Haack didn’t give up on his chances to see the field again.
He said his experience as a backup in his first two seasons with the Cajuns helped. In each of those seasons, he entered games in crucial situations. He knew he’d have to be prepared for the moment to come again.
“You’ve still got to prepare like you’re the starter every day: He’s a shoelace, he’s an ankle or not producing away from me going in there to make the most of the opportunities,” Haack said.
The supposed idea for the Cajuns while playing both quarterbacks is to maximize their strengths. Haack is considered to be the better passer, while Nixon’s ability running the football is something the Cajuns have used to their advantage this season.
Nixon said he feels that narrative has gone a bit too far, and Haack echoed those sentiments after the ULM win Saturday. They feel Haack has shown he can be effective running the ball, and Nixon is a better thrower than people give him credit for.
But if the Cajuns can use their strengths in tandem to get a win? They’re all for it.
“Whatever’s best for the team,” Nixon said. “He brings things to the game that can help us, I bring things to the game that can help us. I just feel like, at the end of the day, the ultimate goal as a football team is to win. However we can do that, we’ll find it.”