BOONE, N.C. — Seated in a dimly lit and cramped weight room at Kidd Brewer Stadium in an unfamiliar position — three games under .500 heading into the final week of the season — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth made something clear: Change is coming.
“Offensively, we’ve got to find some answers, and as soon as next week is over, we’re going to evaluate what we’re doing offensively,” he said. “There will be some changes to what we’re doing.”
For the fourth time in five games — and perhaps more than at any other point in the season — the Cajuns struggled to move the ball. Before being saved by a garbage-time 75-yard drive by their third-string quarterback, the Cajuns were on the brink of being shut out while totaling less than 200 yards of offense.
Don’t expect the upcoming changes to result in members of Hudspeth’s offensive staff looking elsewhere for employment. But the consistently ignominious performance this season has caused Hudspeth to commit to rethinking the way his staff attacks on offense.
“Not making any changes staff-wise,” Hudspeth said. “But what we’re doing offensively, we’re going to sit down and thoroughly evaluate and do what we need to do to be way more efficient, to utilize the talent that we have in a way that best fits them.”
A big part of that falls on creating opportunities for junior running back Elijah McGuire to excel, of which there have been few this season.
McGuire, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year, was held to 43 yards on 16 carries against Appalachian State. It was the fourth time in the past six weeks that McGuire failed to crack 60 rushing yards. Though he’s only 28 yards shy of cracking 1,000 yards this season, McGuire is averaging a career-low 5 yards per carry.
More than half of McGuire’s 972 rushing yards were compiled in three games against sub-standard competition: a 162-yard day against FCS opponent Northwestern State and similar games against teams ranked 118th (Texas State) and 120th (New Mexico State) nationally in rush defense.
“We’ve got to be way better,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got the conference player of the year from last year in the backfield, and we should be way better offensively than what we are.”
Some of the Cajuns’ struggles offensively can be linked to a lack of continuity at quarterback, where the Cajuns vacillated between Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon early in the year before finally settling on Haack.
The team also was devastated by the loss of its best offensive lineman, senior left guard Mykhael Quave. Since Quave left the lineup, the Cajuns’ running game has progressively ground to a halt, culminating in the two worst rushing performances in Hudspeth’s tenure: 43 yards on 24 carries against South Alabama three weeks ago and 42 yards on 36 carries last week.
But the problems go beyond the unfortunate circumstance of injury and poor management of the most important offensive position. The Cajuns, whose successes of the past four years were built on a potent offense, find themselves in this unfamiliar and undesirable position largely because of their failure to meet their own offensive standards.
That, in Hudspeth’s estimation, requires a complete overhaul.
“We’ve been in this system five years and, sometimes when you’re in a system five years, every year you’re twisting it and bending it and shaping it and molding it,” he said. “Sometimes it ends up not even being the system you started with. Sometimes you just have to hit the reset button.
“This is going to be one of those times where we just hit the reset button and start back over offensively with what we’re doing.”