LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette two-game winning streak is swell and all, but the team knows it still has a lot of work to do to in order to be where it wants to be, chiefly on the offensive end.
In the past two games, both wins, the Cajuns averaged 284 yards per game — their worst two-game stretch since they averaged 281.5 yards per game against Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss last year.
Making matters worse, those two subpar offensive efforts came against ULM and Georgia State teams that had given up, on average, 469.6 yards per game.
“No question, the offense has got to get rolling,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “That’s two weeks in a row.”
The major concern for Hudspeth has been his team’s inability to get its ground game going. The Cajuns have been held less than 3.6 yards per carry each of the past two weeks, and outside of a monster day by Jalen Nixon against Arkansas State, the Cajuns haven’t effectively moved the ball on the ground since their Sun Belt Conference opener.
Much of that has to do with opposing defenses selling out to stop star running back Elijah McGuire, who has been held in check on the ground each of the past three weeks.
“For a team that prides itself to run the ball first, 135 yards is not good enough — especially against Georgia State,” Hudspeth said. “Nothing against them, but they just have not been very successful stopping the run. We didn’t go over there and particularly play very well.”
But there have been some signs that the offense is turning around. While the yardage numbers haven’t been there, the team has only turned the ball over once in its past two games, compared to 13 in its first six contests.
With Brooks Haack back in the mix at quarterback, the passing game has also shown some strides in recent weeks.
“Slowly but surely, I think we have something to build off of,” said junior receiver Al Riles, one of the lone productive offensive players last week. “We’re finally moving in a positive direction. Just take baby steps. We’re rebuilding together, a bunch of new guys trying to find our chemistry. But I think we’re moving in a positive direction.”
If you weren’t looking closely, you might’ve missed the defensive alignment the Cajuns started in against Georgia State. It featured two down linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs.
Defensive lineman Chris Prater, who got his first start of the year Saturday, said it was a package the team installed earlier this season and finally busted out against Georgia State.
It was implemented to bring some speed on the field to rush quarterback Nick Arbuckle. In the past two weeks, the Cajuns have sacked opposing quarterbacks eight times.
“I’m hoping our pass rush will be effective,” Hudspeth said. “They’ve gotten much better in the last few weeks — especially as Chris (Prater) has come back into the mix midseason. ... Our pass rush has definitely increased or improved. We’ll definitely need that on Saturday.”
Tight end Nick Byrne did not practice Tuesday, but Hudspeth made it sound like it was more preventative than anything.
“He had a little neck stinger, so we held him out today. He got a little extra treatment,” Hudspeth said. “He’ll make the trip. He’ll play.”
Sophomore safety Tracy Walker’s status is a little more up in the air, though. The team leader in tackles is questionable with a shoulder injury.
“We’re going to decide (Wednesday) after practice,” Hudspeth said.
Happy birthday, Hudspeths
Hudspeth celebrated his 47th birthday by meeting with the Quarterback Club on Tuesday morning (where a cake waited for him), then leading his team through a light practice in the evening.
The real celebration was for his infant son, Captain, who turned 1 on Tuesday. Hudspeth told reporters to keep it quick because he had a 1-year-old’s birthday party to attend — in the football locker room.
“We share the birthday,” Hudspeth said. “Which don’t mean I get much of a birthday.”
Hudspeth also shares a birthday with LSU coach Les Miles, who turned 62 on Tuesday.