LAFAYETTE — It would’ve been understandable to give the new-look Louisiana-Lafayette offensive line some time to fail as it worked itself into a cohesive unit.
After all, only right tackle Octravian Anderson was returning to man the same position he held last season. Both left guard Mykhael Quave and right guard Donovan Williams were settling into new positions, and left tackle Grant Horst and center Eddie Gordon were starting for the first time at the Division I level.
But judging by the early returns, it looks like the line wasted no time understanding how to play together. The Cajuns have allowed just three sacks through two games, and boast one of the nation’s best rushing attacks (303.5 yards per game, ranked eighth nationally) at this early juncture.
“We ran the ball pretty well these first few games,” Anderson said. “I just feel everybody’s bought in, they understand what’s at stake. Everybody’s putting their best foot forward every week.”
Along the offensive line, in particular, cohesiveness is paramount. Each man works as one of five links in a chain, and they must all know the weak spot of the link next to them so they can help fortify the front when needed.
That cohesion and understanding comes from time spent on the field together, but the Cajuns offensive linemen first strengthened their bonds off it.
“We all have a general love for each other outside of football, so we all hang out with one another, we go out with one another and stuff of that nature,” Quave said. “When it came to stuff on the field, it carried over and made it easy to play alongside one another because we trust each other to get the job done.”
When they started applying that trust on the field, it didn’t take long to pull everything together. Anderson said he had a good grasp of how Williams worked after the first scrimmage of preseason camp, and he’s been building on their playing relationship ever since.
With that base in place, offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue set out to fine tune how they would work together in the Cajuns offensive scheme. It helped that each of the Cajuns five starters has been working in the system for at least one full season.
“Coach Rod put us all in a good position to excel,” Quave said. “He did a great job preparing us and making sure that everyone was mentally and physically prepared for what we were going to go through. We’ve all been in the film room and have a good understanding for what the offense is and what the coaches want to call against certain fronts.
“We’re all really gelling with one another, we’re all thinking alike, and as an offensive line that’s what you really need. It’s starting to showcase now on game days.”
Gordon, a former North Carolina State signee who made his way to the Cajuns from junior college, is a key cog.
As the center, he’s responsible for calling out protections once the Cajuns get to the line.
The Cajuns have had a great run at the center position in the last few years, though they always seem to have to scramble to get there.
Last year, Terry Johnson moved over from left guard and played admirably in 13 games.
“That’s one area that we’ve struggled with,” coach Mark Hudspeth said before the Kentucky game. “We’ve signed some centers — one transferred, one ended up getting injured and didn’t play anymore. Our true centers that we’ve recruited ended up not working out, so we had to convert guys to center.
“Generally, that’s not really what you want to do at the center position, but that’s sort of what we were forced to do. Luckily, Eddie’s a true center.”
As just about any coach will say until he’s red in the face, games are won and lost along the offensive and defensive lines.
The play of the Cajuns offensive line has taken on even more importance this season as the Cajuns are breaking in a number of new skill players as well — particularly at quarterback.
The line understands that, which has perhaps hastened their coming together.
“We don’t want them feeling pressure to do too much, to try to make that golden moment play,” Quave said. “If they could just be a consistent guy that does their part, doesn’t try to do too much, that will get everything going.
“We just take it upon ourselves to make their job as easy as possible.”
So far, so good.