Editor’s note: This is the second part of a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Cajuns approach their August 5 report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — Change is in the air for the Louisiana-Lafayette football team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Gone are starters at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, right guard and center — not to mention a running back who found the end zone 44 times over his four-year career.
That’s a lot to replace, and it might mean the Cajuns look a little different on offense this year than they have in past years.
As it should, it all depends on who wins the quarterback battle coming out of preseason practice.
Coach Mark Hudspeth said at Sun Belt Conference media day that he wasn’t planning on naming a starter until right around kickoff of the Sept. 5 opener against Kentucky, which would serve as an advantage because of how much the offensive look varies based on each quarterback’s skill set.
If junior Brooks Haack wins the job, as expected, the Cajuns might not look much like the team they were a year ago with Terrance Broadway piloting the ship.
While Haack is more mobile than he’s often given credit for, he’s not as elusive or fast as Broadway or teammates Jalen Nixon and Jordan Davis.
The read-option game that has buttered the Cajuns’ bread in recent years likely won’t feature as heavily in the Cajuns’ offensive game plan if Haack wins the job. The question then becomes what would replace it?
Hudspeth said in the spring that one of the things he likes about Haack is his ability to throw a deep ball, a facet of the game that was virtually absent from the Cajuns last season.
The Cajuns connected on just 13 plays of 30 or more yards through the air, an average of one per game, and four of those went to running back Elijah McGuire. The longest passing play that went to a receiver was a 45-yarder to Devin Scott against South Alabama.
Only one of those plays, a 62-yard catch and run by McGuire, went more than 45 yards.
It’s easy to imagine this year’s offense being more aggressive down the field with Haack and his big arm lining up behind the center.
That much was evident during the spring, when the Cajuns consistently took shots down the field. If they can start consistently connecting on them, which they didn’t do last season, it could open up lanes for McGuire on the ground.
The downfield passing game should benefit from the return of a healthy Jamal Robinson, who was Broadway’s downfield safety blanket before his season ended in October last season.
Scott could also find a niche as a downfield threat after a nice spring, a role the Cajuns have been grooming for him since he and his excellent speed arrived on campus.
Of course, in order to take shots deep the team is going to need its new-look offensive line to protect the quarterback, whoever it may be.
The Cajuns moved Mykhael Quave inside from his left tackle spot, and are counting on either Grant Horst or D’Aquin Withrow to protect the quarterback’s blind side.
It’s a somewhat risky move, considering Quave played at a high level while accruing 26 starts at left tackle the last two seasons.
The Cajuns did an adequate job protecting the passer last season outside of the last four games of the season, in which they allowed 14 of the 24 sacks they gave up in 2014.
If either Davis or Nixon beats out Haack to win the starting job, the offense might not look much different than it did with Broadway running the show, though the Cajuns don’t have an obvious replacement for Harris as the bruising complement to McGuire’s explosiveness.