LAFAYETTE — Last week, Kentucky was up to the task of limiting Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire’s explosive plays.
Not so much.
McGuire tallied four touchdowns before the teams went to the locker room for halftime and finished with 162 yards and a school record-tying five touchdowns on just 14 carries as the Cajuns pounded the Demons 44-17 in their home opener Saturday at Cajun Field.
His performance led a Cajuns (1-1) ground attack that pummeled the Demons (0-2) to the tune of 360 yards and six scores — just like the Cajuns planned.
“The run game was really working well,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We didn’t feel like we needed to get away from that. We came into the game with a really vanilla game plan.”
Vanilla must be one of McGuire’s favorite flavors.
“Coming off last week, we had a bad taste in our mouth,” McGuire said. “The plan was to come out of the gates and hit them in the mouth and keep running the ball.”
McGuire did that right away, capping a 75-yard opening drive with a 7-yard plunge into the end zone right through the heart of the Demons defense. That drive set up vintage McGuire the next time the Cajuns had the ball.
The Cajuns noticed Northwestern State’s aggressive run blitzes on the first drive and saw how they left a single high safety alone over the top. At their 12-yard line after a Demons punt, the Cajuns recognized a blitz and made a check.
“I saw a hole, and I had one man to beat,” McGuire said. “I just took it to the house.”
McGuire shot into the second level and easily beat the one man he needed to, racing 88 yards for a career-long score. McGuire punched it in three more times before giving way to the backups as the Cajuns led comfortably all day.
But it wasn’t a one-man show Saturday.
“That comes with great blocking up front,” quarterback Brooks Haack said. “Our offensive line, I promise they had them at least pushed back 3 or 4 yards off the ball. It made Eli just one cut and go, and with his breakaway speed, he left everybody in the dust.”
The Cajuns punted just once the entire game as Darius Hoggins, Torrey Pierce and Haack also topped 50 rushing yards.
Haack wasn’t asked to do much in the air, but he looked much more comfortable in his second start of the season, completing 7 of 8 passes for 187 yards.
There were some troubling moments on the defensive side when the Cajuns lost track of a man, allowing him to get behind their coverage wide open, but Northwestern State wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunities for the most part.
Hudspeth knows his team won’t always be so lucky.
“Wide open, complete breakdown in communication,” Hudspeth said. “We had some checks that we obviously did not get checked to everybody that needed to get checked to. We would never turn anybody free like that — that was a complete breakdown — but it was a good time to see it so we could get it corrected on film in a game where it didn’t cost you.
“We need to get that cleaned up, because some breakdowns like that could cost you in some really tough games.”
The Cajuns now go into a well-timed open date that will allow them to heal some key players. Five potential starters missed Saturday’s contest, and as many as four of them could return with an added week of rest.
“It comes at a great time considering how banged-up we are,” Hudspeth said. “We’re going to need these two weeks to recover and get these guys healthy before we play Akron at home.”
One player who wasn’t so banged up was McGuire. A week after receiving a career-high 31 carries — and acknowledging he felt incredibly sore afterward — McGuire was trying to go back into the game after the coaches pulled him with 15 touches.
McGuire knew he was tied for the school record and wanted a chance to break it. He talked to running backs coach Marquase Lovings, who asked Hudspeth, and Hudspeth declined to let McGuire go for a sixth touchdown.
He’s obviously too important to risk.
“Five’s a lot,” Hudspeth said.