LAFAYETTE — Again, heading into spring, there is a quarterback competition brewing for Louisiana-Lafayette.
The difference this year is the players involved.
Coach Mark Hudspeth said Thursday that rising senior Jalen Nixon will officially be moved to running back this season. That, combined with the imminent transfer of Brooks Haack, opened the door for sophomore Jordan Davis and redshirt freshman Chris Weaver to compete for the starting job.
This news might come as a shock to those who watched Davis perform well in about five quarters at the end of the regular season, but Hudspeth doesn’t want to hand the job to anybody on a platter.
Hudspeth also wants whoever replaces offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, who left earlier this offseason for the same job in Minnesota, to be a part of the evaluation.
“We’re going to let them duke it out,” Hudspeth said. “We’re not anointing anybody the starting quarterback. We’re going to let them have a chance to earn it, a chance for the new (offensive) coordinator — the new quarterback coach, I should say more than anything — to work with them. I look forward to the competition, because those are two strong competitors. Strong-willed.”
Davis spent much of last season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Nixon, who started four games, and Haack, who started eight.
But at the end of the season, he’d worked his way into the game plan. He directed the Cajuns’ lone touchdown drive against Appalachian State, then played the majority of the snaps in the regular-season finale against Troy.
He finished the year completing a team-high 64.3 percent of his passes for 267 yards and a touchdown and added 29 yards and a score on the ground. For Hudspeth, it wasn’t as much about his statistical production as it was the composure Davis showed.
“I think he showed that he is one cool cucumber out there in the game too, boy,” Hudspeth said. “He didn’t get rattled. If he made a mistake, it never bothered him. I think he’s got a chance to be pretty strong.”
His lack of experience is what held him back last year, and while he’s not especially experienced now, Hudspeth said his talent will make up for it.
Weaver is in the same position Davis was a year ago. He’s just coming off his redshirt season, and all the coaches know about him is what they saw in his high school tape and what they saw when he directed the scout team offense.
But that’s enough for them to want to see him in a competition.
Weaver directed his Saraland High School (Alabama) team to the Class 6A state championship as a senior. While he does not have prototypical size, listed at an even 6 feet, Hudspeth said he might have the strongest arm he’s seen and he brings some moxie to the position.
“He’s the kind of guy you don’t want to meet in the alley,” Hudspeth said. “He’s tough.”
Speedster Dion Ray, who also redshirted last year coming out of Helen Cox, will work behind Weaver and Davis. Hudspeth indicated Ray might not stay at quarterback if it wasn’t for the need for depth at the position.
Nixon, meanwhile, will be ready in case of an emergency at quarterback. Hudspeth said he could fill a similar role to what Brad McGuire did in 2011.
But Nixon, who ran for 406 yards and five touchdowns last season as a quarterback, is making a full-time switch to running back, where his sturdy frame could provide the element that was missing in last season’s attack after the graduation of 240-pound wrecking ball Alonzo Harris.
Star running back Elijah McGuire put up a career-low 5 yards per carry last year as the Cajuns’ bell cow back, a number that is a bit skewed by three huge games. Take out the Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico State games, and McGuire averaged 3.7 yards per carry the rest of the season.
Hudspeth said Nixon should ease the burden on Elijah McGuire, plus add a little oomph in short yardage situations. Last season, Nixon converted 12 of 15 opportunities on third and 3 or less.
“That’s one thing that we were so good at for so long with Alonzo — red zone, goal line,” Hudspeth said. “Now we’ll have another 230-pound back that we can really try to push the pile with and do some two-back things with. I think he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing.”