LAFAYETTE — The roars coming from the locker room afterward were proof: That nasty 1-3 start to the season turned into ancient history in the span of a little more than three hours Saturday night at Cajun Field.
“I’m really excited for our young men,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “That was a great victory locker room.”
Louisiana-Lafayette piled up 526 yards and played stifling defense in the second and third quarters to turn a seven-point deficit into a convincing 49-27 victory against Texas State in its Sun Belt Conference opener.
The Cajuns (2-3, 1-0) scored 28 unanswered points to turn a close game into a blowout by the third quarter. They relied on their offensive stars to do so.
Jamal Robinson, who hadn’t caught a touchdown in more than a calendar year, hauled in a pair of them — the game-tying score in the second quarter and what proved to be the winner early in the third quarter.
On his first score, Robinson went wild in the end zone, 12 months of frustration boiling over into joy.
“I’ve been waiting to get a deep ball in the end zone and score,” he said. “Y’all saw how wild I got when I scored.”
Quarterback Jalen Nixon cemented himself as the unquestioned starter with a career day, going 22-of-29 through the air for 238 yards and three scores while tacking on another 45 yards on the ground.
Running back Elijah McGuire showed he was capable of being a workhorse, racking up a career-high 28 carries and a season-high 170 yards on the ground.
“It was great to get our offense on track and see some guys step up,” Hudspeth said.
But it was the defense that turned a close game into a snoozer. After allowing 160 yards and 14 points on Texas State’s first three possessions, the Cajuns defenders went into shutdown mode.
Texas State (1-4, 0-1) started quickly, with touchdowns on two of its first three possessions. On both of them, problems that plagued the Cajuns early in the year reared their head again.
On the first touchdown, the Cajuns brought a blitz but lost track of running back Robert Lowe, who ran a delayed pass route out of the backfield and caught the ball with nobody near him, easily running for a 37-yard score.
The Cajuns answered with a touchdown of their own, a 22-yard jet sweep pass to Al Riles, who hauled in a career-high in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (98). But after trading punts, Texas State went back on the offensive.
Quarterback Tyler Jones capped an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 31-yard scamper on an option play. Defensive back Zach DeGrange jumped the running back, giving Jones a seam to turn upfield. He followed his blockers into the end zone to put Texas State ahead 14-7.
That’s when the Bobcats’ fun stopped. On the eight defensive series following the Bobcats’ second touchdown, the Cajuns allowed just 13 yards on 26 plays from scrimmage.
In that time frame, the Cajuns went from seven points down to 21 points up.
Robinson caught his two scores, and McGuire and Nixon each punched one in on the ground.
The only blemish in the game, from Hudspeth’s perspective, was a 95-yard kick return touchdown by Texas State’s Brandon Smith — which was immediately answered with a school record-tying 100-yard return touchdown by the Cajuns’ Jeryl Brazil.
Texas State was able to put one last drive together — a 10-play, 90-yarder that cut the deficit to two scores with plenty of time remaining. But the onside kick went out of bounds, and the Cajuns went 34 yards in five plays to put the nail in the coffin on a 2-yard touchdown plunge by running back Torrey Pierce with 6:39 remaining.
After the game, Hudspeth’s players were jubilant, a far cry from where they had been after two straight blowout losses to Akron and Louisiana Tech.
The Cajuns started their new season with a physical, in-your-face bang — just the way they like it.
“This is a great shot in the arm at the right time,” Hudspeth said. “I thought tonight was what we’d call Ragin’ Cajun football. We were physical. We looked much more like ourselves.”