LAFAYETTE — Consider the stakes and the elements at play: It’s a miserably rainy day, your team is down 24-9 and you’re given the keys to an offense that has been more lifeless than those pretend zombies outside, whose pursuit of candy was derailed by a surly and uncooperative Mother Nature.
Your team’s chances rest, largely, on how you fare in that situation. Fail, and who knows what depths of misery this football season spirals into?
Your own chances of seeing the field again might well be determined by how well you perform while both the defense and the skies above are conspiring against you. Fail, and this opportunity might not present itself again.
No pressure, Brooks Haack.
But with everything working against him, the Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback delivered in a 30-24 comeback win against Louisiana-Monroe, the decisive points coming on a ball that flew out of his right hand, wobbled through those rainy skies and landed in the waiting hands of receiver Jamal Robinson for a 64-yard score.
Here’s the thing about pressure: It brings out both the best and the worst in us. Which one of those shows itself is determined by one’s character and experience, and Haack wasn’t likely to crack after being forged in the fire of his 2015 season.
The pressure may have gotten to him earlier this season, when he was looking over his shoulder waiting for the hook, but it appears he’s stronger because of it.
Coach Mark Hudspeth admitted last week that he probably didn’t do right by Haack earlier this season when he played him with a short leash. Haack likely would admit that he didn’t respond well to the pressure. But he also didn’t throw in the towel when his starting gig was taken away.
“Obviously everybody wants to be the guy, and when you go through a tough situation, it’s very easy to just tank yourself and be pissed at the world,” Haack said. “But I had a great supporting cast. My family, my friends, these coaches — they all told me to stay ready, stay ready, you never know.”
You may never know, but you can fake the funk and prepare like you do.
“Brooks Haack, here’s a guy that lost his starting job, sort of got sat down,” Hudspeth said. “But he kept preparing like a starter. Every day, he comes to film study. Works every day like he’s the starter. Sure enough, an opportunity came his way and he was prepared when it did come his way.”
But if you thought that was hard, what comes next is harder. For the umpteenth time this season, the Cajuns have a decision to make at quarterback. The calendar has flipped to November. This is not good.
For all the flak Hudspeth has caught about the way he has handled the quarterback situation — and he and the coaching staff deserve their share of blame — there’s not much else they could’ve done, other than stand by and watch as one struggled while the other’s potential sat unused on the bench.
For as good as Haack was Saturday, his performance early in the season was not good enough to justify keeping him in the starting lineup, just as Jalen Nixon’s performance Saturday rightly prompted Hudspeth to make the switch.
It was right because it worked. Other times early this season, with his offense lacking any of the vitality it had shown in recent years, the switch at quarterback created a spark that got the offense going. The midgame switch, on a game-to-game basis, has worked to a degree.
The price they paid on the season as a whole has been greater, though. Seven games into the season, they do not have a true offensive identity, because they are completely unsettled at the most important position on the field.
What the Cajuns have desperately tried to find is a straight answer at quarterback. They don’t want to have to keep trying to find the hot hand; they want their guy.
What comes next could be a season-defining decision: Do the Cajuns finally have an answer?
It could be Haack, who showed Saturday why he deserves another chance to start — and finish — a game.
It could be Nixon, who despite his inconsistency has been far more productive than Haack when he’s been on the field outside of Saturday’s game against ULM.
Or it could be both, used interchangeably in a two-quarterback system that, frankly, has failed just about everywhere as much as it’s failed here this season.
The Cajuns’ fate this season might just depend on how well this question is answered.
No pressure, Cajuns.