LAFAYETTE — A somber and determined Terrance Broadway took the podium in the belly of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and searched for a sword to jump on.
The Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback scanned the room while he spoke, but his gaze seemed to be replaying missed throws and opportunities from the game rather than locking onto people eye-to-eye. His voice trembled just a touch, but it wasn’t the kind of tremor that comes with frayed nerves or confidence.
It was anger — the kind of barely checked anger that was simmering just below the surface. The kind of anger that comes when you know that you did not meet your own expectations, and others paid for it.
Dismal doesn’t adequately describe Broadway’s play that day against then-No. 14 Ole Miss. He threw three interceptions in the 56-15 loss, finishing with a 66.1 passer rating — the lowest of his career.
“I’ve got to play better,” Broadway said that night. “It’s no secret: My performance tonight was unacceptable. It won’t happen again. I will fix it.”
It was a promise. Judging by his performance lately, it was a promise the senior intends to keep.
While Broadway did have one more clunker the next week against Boise State, he has since rediscovered the form that made him the player that kept opposing defensive coordinators awake when game-planning for the Cajuns offense.
In the past two weeks, Broadway has assembled his top two performances in terms of completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating this season. But to qualify Broadway as a success because of what he has done in the passing game would be to misidentify his true importance to the offense.
Last week, he had his first 100-yard rushing game since the 2012 New Orleans Bowl, and it wasn’t just the number of yards Broadway attained, but the way he did it. You didn’t want to be a defender in Broadway’s way, because he wasn’t going to do the quarterback thing and slide or run out of bounds.
He wasn’t just running hard; he was running angry. That rage that shimmered beneath the surface a month ago in Mississippi was now manifested as a sprinting Broadway looking to punish defensive players that got in his way.
Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth is a smarter football man than I, but if I were him, I’d have noticed the ferocity with which Broadway was running and committed to hitching my wagon to him as the season goes on.
“I thought he was much stronger in the running game trying to get extra yards,” Hudspeth said. “I anticipate he’ll be a big part of this plan moving forward with the quarterback runs.”
But something else stood out in these past couple of weeks besides Broadway’s improved play on the field. It was visible when Broadway got up from delivering one of those vicious blows. The TV cameras caught a couple of them on the sidelines. He definitely flashed a few in the postgame interview.
Broadway was smiling.
These are better days for the Cajuns. Broadway is back to smiling during practice, during interviews and — most importantly — during games. A smile is something he rarely loosed during the Cajuns’ three-game losing streak.
Something as seemingly insignificant as a smile shows how far the Cajuns and Broadway have come since that 1-3 start. A smile seemed impossible on that bleak night in Oxford.
But even when Broadway was struggling worse than he ever had in his career, even when a simple and insignificant smile seemed too much, he persevered.
Though it was obvious through his clench-jawed and clipped responses to questions about his performance during that stretch when he didn’t want to relive his poor play — including one week when he didn’t show to interviews at all in what team officials deemed a “coaches decision” — it was equally obvious that Broadway never lost confidence in his abilities.
“You’re going to have some rough stretches in football and in life,” Broadway said. “It’s something that you’re just going to have to get over, get past. My confidence never changed.”
He knew it would get better. He promised it would get better. It got better, both for him and the Cajuns.
“If I could say one thing about these last two weeks, it’s that they brought us together as a team,” Broadway said after the Ole Miss loss. “Major adversity that we didn’t expect. We expected ourselves to play up to our potential, and we haven’t.
“It’s something that has brought us together as a team, offensively and defensively together. We’re going to learn from these mistakes, and we will fix these mistakes — no doubt in my mind.”
A promise followed by prosperity. That’s all you can ask for in a quarterback, isn’t it?