LAFAYETTE — Try picking just one Elijah McGuire highlight out of his rapidly expanding pool of brilliance.
It’s difficult to nail down what might be his most memorable play thanks to the sheer volume of them. In just two seasons, McGuire has already assembled an impressive collection of explosive plays where he juked, trucked and outran defenders.
“Sometimes on film, I’m not even blocking. But he’s making me look like I’m blocking, gaining 30 or 40 yards down the field,” junior left tackle Mykhael Quave said.
The Cajuns, as a team, have produced 68 plays that went 20 or more yards this season. McGuire is responsible for 20 of them, including the Cajuns five longest plays from scrimmage.
“He’s had a lot,” said coach Mark Hudspeth, trying to buy some time while he searched his mind for that singular display of prowess that stands above the rest.
Picking one is hard. So to make it easy, start at the beginning: his first home game, his team already ahead of Nicholls State by a wide margin, a basic delayed handoff attacking the defensive interior.
This is the thing about McGuire: Coaches try to implement his dynamic ability in different ways on the field. They’ll get him the ball on the perimeter with jet sweeps, in the passing game out of the backfield or split wide, as a wildcat quarterback, or in the traditional run game.
But it doesn’t really matter where he lines up, because his fuse is always lit. How long that fuse stays lit is anybody’s guess, but at some point it runs out and he explodes, like he did in the third quarter against Nicholls State last season.
He took the handoff from and surveyed the blocks in front of him. He saw the crease and zoomed through it, nearly untouched except for one pesky hand that somehow managed to get a fistful of jersey.
McGuire’s legs kept churning, but the defender’s hand held strong. McGuire dragged the defender like a horse dragging a tangled rider behind him, going 10 yards before he broke free. Finally unimpeded, he got up to full speed again and beat the rest of the defense to the end zone for a long score.
“He’s had a lot (of big plays),” quarterback Terrance Broadway said. “But that still stands out to me.”
He’s able to accumulate so many jaw-dropping plays because he is like a Swiss Army knife at running back, with an arsenal of tools at his disposal. Well, maybe that’s not the appropriate comparison.
“He’s like an appetizer sampler when you go to a restaurant; he has a little bit of everything,” Quave said.
On that standout play against Nicholls State last season, McGuire nearly showed off his complete skill set. There was the patience to allow the play to develop and the vision to spot the hole before it truly opened. There was the strength that allowed him to drag the defender and the acceleration that allowed him to get back up to speed after shrugging the defender to beat the defense to the end zone.
There was one element left out in that run, though. The move McGuire calls the “in-and-out.” The move known better by his teammates as “the stanky leg.” It’s a simple move where McGuire stiffly plants one leg and immediately changes direction.
“He can put a foot in the ground, and when he sticks that foot in the ground, he’s going in the other direction instantly and he’s hard to hem up,” Hudspeth said. “He’s one of those guys ... that I don’t know if you can tackle him in a phone booth.”
That move has devastated opponents who thought they had McGuire squared up this season. It’s innate, McGuire said, nothing he spends much time practicing or perfecting, perhaps suggesting that he was born to frustrate linebackers.
“Every time I’m one-on-one with a defender, I try to make people miss,” McGuire said. “That’s the whole key to being a great running back: make people miss, then outrun people.
“It’s something I’ve been doing since I was little, and I’m going to keep on doing it.”