Cajuns’ Daniel Cadona kicks up his heels _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- UL-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year on Wednesday.

Last year was University of Louisiana at Lafayette punter Daniel Cadona’s first playing organized football, and while he had a decent year, he’s really starting to shine in his second season.

Cadona has been masterful. The Australia native is ranked fourth nationally with a 49.3-yard punting average and was recently named the Sun Belt Conference special teams player of the week after he ripped seven punts for 358 yards against Ole Miss.

In 2013, Cadona said, he’d often go out to the field without truly understanding the finer points of his craft. He honed a strong leg growing up in Australia, but had no idea how to use it to his advantage in American football.

“Now I’ve got more of a chance to do different kicks at different stages on the field,” Cadona said. “And I kind of understand what the team is going through and what the best outcome would be from punting.”

Cadona’s final punt of the Ole Miss game was a 61-yard boomer that spiraled off his foot and angled perfectly until it rolled out of bounds at the Rebels’ 5-yard line. Earlier in the game, the wind was in his face, so Cadona punted low to let the ball roll out. On the 61-yarder, Cadona let the ball get caught in the wind and fly.

Cadona also drilled a 77-yarder in the season opener against Southern on a Rugby-style kick. Through three weeks, it’s the longest punt in the nation by an FBS player.

On second thought

Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said he and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson thought about putting backup quarterback Brooks Haack in for a series against Ole Miss. But they backed off when starter Terrance Broadway said he wanted to finish what he started.

“Terrance was adamant that he wanted to finish the game,” Hudspeth said. “I don’t think he wanted to bow out. I think he wanted to show that he’s in this for the long haul. That was, I thought, a great sign.

“Here we are, we’re down pretty good, and our starting quarterback is still wanting to fight and get our team to still play hard and compete.”

Haack has been impressive in garbage time this year, but the thought to insert him into the game was not because of Broadway’s struggles, but rather because Hudspeth and Johnson wanted to get him experience against a team of Ole Miss’ caliber.

Limited returns

Most figured sophomore running back Eli McGuire would’ve made an impact in the return game at this point in the season, but he hasn’t quite had the chance yet.

The Cajuns’ dynamic running back has only had two opportunities to return punts in three games.

Part of the lack of return opportunities can be attributed to the Cajuns defensive struggles, as they’ve forced only seven punts while being blown out of the past two games.

But part can also be attributed to shoddy blocking on the return team.

“We’ve got to do a little better job … with our hold up team,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got to do a good job getting him some lanes. Because if we can just get him a step, that can be a weapon for us. That’s going to be a point of emphasis this week.”

Hudspeth did not sound concerned about McGuire taking an unnecessary risk to return an un-returnable punt, however.

“He’s a pretty good decision-maker,” Hudspeth said.

Dreadful rankings

How bad have the Cajuns been when it comes to turnovers?

Only two teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision class can match Cajuns’ nine turnovers, and nobody can match the Cajuns’ minus-eight turnover margin.

But at least the Cajuns aren’t the worst on a per-game basis. That title goes to SMU, who has turned it over eight times in two games.