LAFAYETTE — When Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth looks at the Appalachian State defense, he doesn’t necessarily see jaw-dropping stuff to watch out for.
Instead, what he sees is actually a little more unsettling: 11 guys all precisely where they should be, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
“They’re very sound,” Hudspeth said. “They don’t do a ton, but what they do, they’re very sound about taking their gaps. Their front is not very big — but boy, are they sudden. They get in their gaps and they stay in their gaps and they fit everything just right in the secondary.
“They’re, what I would say, airtight. They don’t give you many opportunities for big hits. They’re a very sound, well-coached, well-prepared defense.”
Appalachian State leads the Sun Belt Conference in just about every meaningful defensive category.
Among the categories: The Mountaineers give up just 18.5 points per game, and they limit opponents to 3.7 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per pass attempt. They have compiled 76 tackles for loss and have sacked opposing quarterbacks 24 times.
They’ve also returned three of their 13 interceptions for touchdowns, which only trails Arkansas State among SBC teams.
What really stands out, though, is the fact that only one Appalachian State defender leads the conference in any category. Sophomore defensive back Latrell Gibbs has broken up 13 passes this season to lead all SBC defenders and has returned two of his five interceptions for scores.
Senior defensive lineman Ronald Blair is also among league leaders in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (14½).
Outside of that, the Mountaineers appear to be getting everything done through a team approach, which will make them very difficult to attack for a Cajuns offense that has struggled for long stretches of the season.
With his big day Saturday, running back Elijah McGuire joined an exclusive club. Spectacularly exlusive, that is: He’s the only active member.
McGuire’s 159 rushing yards put him over 3,000 for his career, making him the only current college football player with 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his career, according to the UL-Lafayette sports information department.
He can tack on another couple milestones with a solid day this weekend. McGuire is 71 yards shy of his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season and needs just four catches to become the first running back in school history with 100 career receptions.
Jamal Robinson could also continue his ascent on the school’s records list. He needs one touchdown reception to break a tie with Donald Richard for third place on the school’s all-time receiving touchdowns list, and three catches to pass Ladarius Green for fifth place in school history.
Risk vs. reward
Receiver/punt returner Gary Haynes sure looked like he had a freshman moment when he decided to pick up a rolling punt with several New Mexico State defenders around him last weekend.
While that play might’ve been ill-advised, it wasn’t too far off from where Hudspeth wants him to be.
“We came into this year with the approach of being more aggressive in catching some punts. ... That was probably a little ill-advised to catch that one, but he probably saved 10 yards of roll by doing that,” Hudspeth said.
Haynes has averaged 12.4 yards on punt returns this season with a long of 42.
“I want some guys back there that are fearless, and I think he’s one of those guys that will eventually one day be one of those fearless punt returners that has never seen a ball he didn’t like,” Hudspeth said. “He’s got to be smart in that situation, but it did save us some yardage there.”