LAFAYETTE — Last week’s game against South Alabama marked a first for Elijah McGuire, and it’s not a milestone he would’ve ever liked to set.
The Jaguars limited the Louisiana-Lafayette running back to 21 yards on 11 carries, marking the first time in 35 career games he’s been held under 2 yards per carry. What’s even more concerning is that it was a continuation of a downward trend for the Cajuns most explosive offensive playmaker.
Opposing defenses have snuffed the fuse to McGuire’s dynamite.
Since running for 170 yards on a career-high 28 carries against Texas State on Oct. 10, McGuire has been limited to 185 rushing yards on 64 carries — a 2.9 yards per carry average.
In those four games, McGuire has just one rush of 20 or more yards, and outside of a career receiving day as the Cajuns were playing catch-up against Arkansas State, he’s been held in check in the passing game as well with four catches for two yards in his last three contests.
Through what has been easily the most frustrating stretch of his football life, McGuire has sought to keep his eyes focused ahead rather than dwelling on what’s behind him.
“Just being patient and letting the game come to me,” McGuire said. “I get frustrated sometimes when we’re not moving the chains, and I take a big part of that myself. As a whole team, we’ve got to get back to playing Ragin’ Cajun football. Our backs are against the wall.”
As it has been all season, the onus is on the Cajuns coaching staff to find ways to get McGuire going. That has been a challenge the Cajuns have failed to keep up with for numerous reasons so far.
First has been a lack of creativity to find ways to get McGuire the ball in space, where he is truly special. A large chunk of McGuire’s carries have come between the tackles, mostly because defenses have been content to stack the line of scrimmage with defenders to bottle McGuire up.
The Cajuns have tried to battle this with the read option to varying degrees of success. They’ve also tried to stretch the field horizontally with the jet sweep to their slot receivers. The passing game has been too inconsistent to force defenses to sag off the line of scrimmage, and until that improves, defenses will continue to devote the majority of their attention to stopping McGuire.
McGuire has also been banged up, though he hasn’t officially been listed with a specific injury. Coach Mark Hudspeth said he did not practice at all last week before the South Alabama game, limiting any sort of new wrinkles the Cajuns staff could implement.
“As far as new creative stuff, you can’t put it in if you don’t practice,” Hudspeth said.
This rough stretch has also largely coincided with the season-ending injury to All-Sun Belt left guard Mykhael Quave and subsequent reshuffling of the offensive line.
McGuire isn’t laying any of the blame on that, though.
“I think the (offensive) line did a very good job of blocking up front, and they’re still doing a great job,” McGuire said. “I had plenty of one-on-ones in the open field against safeties, corners, linebackers.
“I was able to win a few of them, but there’s been a few plays I haven’t won and I got frustrated at myself because I know I’m talented enough to win a one-on-one against a linebacker, a safety, a corner.”
It would be understandable if McGuire took the game home with him and stewed about his uncharacteristic ineffectiveness. It’s been more than a month since McGuire looked like himself on the football field.
But all indications are that he’s handled it as well as possible.
“Once the game’s over I got amnesia,” McGuire said. “I don’t really talk about it, I just move on to the next game and prepare for the next opponent. For the most part, I stay focused. I don’t worry about the past too much, because the past can’t do anything for you. You’ve just got to look ahead and get ready for what’s next.”
What’s next is a New Mexico State team that is ranked 124th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game. The Aggies have given up 2,415 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground this season.
Perhaps McGuire’s time in the dark has reached the end and the Cajuns find a way to re-ignite the fuse to his dynamite.
“We’ve got three games left,” McGuire said. “I’m pretty sure the fans will see Elijah McGuire make something happen these last three games.”