LAFAYETTE — When UL-Lafayette needed someone to step up and make a play in the second half of its game against Arkansas State, receivers Gabe Fuselier and Al Riles answered the call.
Fuselier, held to one catch for 9 yards in the first half, showed some tremendous downfield ability in the second half — especially on a vertical route on a crucial fourth down late in the game when the Cajuns still had a slim chance at coming back to tie the game.
Fuselier made a great adjustment on an underthrown pass, twisting his body and catching the ball with a defender in his field of vision.
He quietly finished with a career-high 72 yards on just three catches in the Cajuns’ 37-27 loss, and he may have opened up his coaches eyes when it comes to his abilities in the vertical passing game.
“Gabe Fuselier made an unbelievable catch on a fade pattern, reaching around the guy,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “That guy battled. He wanted the ball more. We probably should’ve gave him more opportunities. He can help us moving forward.”
All three of Riles’ second-half catches went for at least 14 yards — including back-to-back 17 yarders in the third quarter, one of which went for a touchdown.
With those two making plays on the perimeter, it drew some of the attention away from star running back Elijah McGuire, who was able to find a little more room to work in the passing game in the second half.
“It helps our offense to get going when those guys are playing well. We need that from start to finish,” said quarterback Jalen Nixon after the game.
Asked why Nixon struggled so much throwing the ball in the first half — he was 2-for-17 at one point — Hudspeth said Nixon’s throws weren’t the easiest ones to make.
“A lot of the passes were not really high-percentage throws,” Hudspeth said. “He just missed Jamal (Robinson) on a deep route. They were really taking away the short stuff, had everybody bunched in, and we wanted to try to see if we could burn them.”
Robinson did indeed have a step or two on his defensive back on a couple of those deep attempts, but Nixon’s passes were either a hair underthrown or beyond Robinson’s reach.
A big play in the passing game could’ve stemmed the tide that washed over the Cajuns in the first half against Arkansas State. But they couldn’t find a way to connect.
“We had them beat a couple times and just couldn’t hit them,” Hudspeth said. “If you could hit a couple of those, you change the game. You probably soften them up and you get them out of what they’re in. We just didn’t hit any of those throws.”
Junior cornerback Savion Brown has seen his reps increase in each of the last two games without usual starter Troy McCollum in the starting lineup, and Hudspeth has been very pleased with how Brown has played.
McCollum should be back against UL-Monroe, Hudspeth said, but Brown has made himself difficult to remove from the lineup.
“Savion Brown is just about to where we thought he could be,” Hudspeth said. “He came in very raw, but boy, he had a great play on (an) interception. Sparked the team. He’s physical, he’s a guy who can tackle. It’s been a pleasure seeing his progress.”