LAFAYETTE — As sophomore running back Elijah McGuire made his way from the podium to the locker room after the Louisiana-Lafayette football team’s 19-9 win against South Alabama on Saturday, coach Mark Hudspeth embraced him with a simple message to deliver.
“Get some rest,” Hudspeth said, and he sent McGuire on his way with a pat on the backside.
Funny, McGuire didn’t look that tired. Not in the postgame news conference, and certainly not to the Jaguars defenders whom he left in the dust in the fourth quarter.
For the second straight week, McGuire owned the game’s final period, and the Cajuns stood as the primary beneficiary.
“If there’s somebody in the country that is playing better than Elijah McGuire, I’d like to see him,” Hudspeth said. “He put the team on his back tonight.”
He was like all-universe closer Mariano Rivera, except instead of dealing cold-blooded cutters McGuire’s devastating weapon of choice is the stanky leg — that’s his teammate Kevin Fouquier’s choice of words, not mine.
Like the cutter, it’s beautifully simple. A slight feint to one direction and a swift move in another, all set up by stiffly planting one leg in the turf.
Like the cutter, there’s more than just the physical act of the move, it’s the complete package: He hits the hole going warp speed and then, with great vision and anticipation, sees the defenders in space, plants his leg and zooms off in another direction with perfect timing, leaving the defender grasping at nothing but air.
By the time those poor linebackers or defensive backs realize what has happened, McGuire’s already 10 yards downfield on his way to claiming the fourth quarter in the name of the Cajuns.
That’s what it’s all about, by the way.
McGuire is a really good ball player all the time, but when defenders need a superhuman effort to contain him, the combination of McGuire and the fourth quarter is a particularly potent form of Kryptonite.
“You can’t stop him for 60 minutes,” quarterback Terrance Broadway said. “That’s kind of impossible.”
McGuire did his damage almost exclusively through the air in the first three quarters Saturday, hauling in six passes for 55 yards through the first 45 minutes. But the Jaguars did a nice job containing him on the ground, limiting him to just 23 yards on seven attempts.
Then the fourth quarter hit, and McGuire did his thing.
Hudspeth must have sensed McGuire’s quarter had arrived. With the ball on the Cajuns 20-yard line and the score tied at 9, the Cajuns simply turned around and handed the ball to McGuire, who zipped around the right tackle and picked up 33 yards in a blink.
Why not try it again? McGuire gained 14 on the next play to push the Cajuns into Jaguars territory, where they would take the lead on a 32-yard Hunter Stover field goal.
When the Cajuns got the ball back again — after Christian Ringo’s fumble recovery at the Cajuns 9-yard line — Hudspeth didn’t think twice. He handed the ball to McGuire three straight times for gains of 8, 1 and 3 yards.
Just when the Jaguars thought they had him contained, the Cajuns dialed up a wheel route, which McGuire hauled in for a 31-yard reception down the sideline. Two plays later, McGuire punched it in for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Cajuns got the ball one more time, needing to drain 4:17 off the clock with a 10-point lead. Any guesses where they went with the ball?
McGuire left for 8, McGuire middle for 2, McGuire left for 8, McGuire left for 7, and perhaps most importantly, McGuire to the bench and healthy. Ball game.
Think the Cajuns don’t know McGuire’s late-game worth? They ran 19 plays from scrimmage in the fourth quarter, and 13 of those plays ended with the ball in McGuire’s hands.
That’s why he should’ve been exhausted, but he looked just fine. Hudspeth told him to get some rest anyway.
He deserved it. He’ll need it.
They’ll still play four quarters next week.