LAFAYETTE — Brooks Haack started at quarterback and performed fairly well in the Louisiana-Lafayette season-opening loss against Kentucky.
But aside from the last drive, where the Cajuns needed Haack’s skill set to go 78 yards in less than a minute for a game-tying score, it was Jalen Nixon who finished the furious assault on Kentucky’s lead and put the Cajuns in position to win the game.
All the talk in the preseason from coach Mark Hudspeth about how he felt he had two capable quarterbacks was validated, but now the Cajuns are in a position where they have a decision to make. Do they stick with one quarterback or do they move forward with a dual-quarterback system?
In a perfect world, Hudspeth would rather have one quarterback taking the majority of the snaps. History has shown dual-quarterback systems don’t often work, and Hudspeth said that’s because of the difficulty in preparing two players for the most challenging position on the field.
“When you’ve got two? You’re splitting your reps, so you’re not going to get all the plays,” Hudspeth said. “You end up maybe getting one rep at one play instead of three or four that week.
“They’re getting half the work. Then you get in a game and sometimes they’re half-prepared if you’re not careful.”
The Cajuns try to get their signal callers around this challenge by telling them to take “mental reps” when they’re not actually behind center running through a play.
When Haack is on the sideline during practice, he still focuses in on the defensive alignment. As the play unfolds, he imagines what he would do if he was on the field. It’s like live-action film study.
And he doesn’t hold that information to himself, either.
“We have a good relationship, so if he comes off, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is what you could’ve done, this is what you should’ve done,’ or, ‘Good job, man, I would’ve done the same thing,’ ” Haack said. “We have that kind of rapport with one another where I think it’s beneficial.”
Nixon takes the same approach when Haack is directing the offense during practice.
“You have to be there mentally,” Nixon said. “You’ve got to focus in on what the main task is and make sure you’re aware of what’s going on. That way, whenever you get your opportunity to get in the game and play, you aren’t stumbling on what to do. You can be on point if you’re watching what’s going on.”
While preparing two players in the amount of live action normally reserved for one is a challenge, there are benefits to a two-quarterback system — especially with the variation between Haack and Nixon’s skill sets.
That was evident against Kentucky. After spending most of the game defending the Cajuns’ pass-heavy attack with Haack, the Wildcats looked unprepared to defend Nixon and the read-option game.
With Nixon guiding the offense, the Cajuns finished off drives of 74, 67 and 71 yards, turning a 33-10 deficit into a 33-all tie in a matter of nine minutes.
“Brooks was moving the ball well as far as passing the ball,” Nixon said. “But when I got in the game I used my feet a lot as I’m used to doing, and I felt like they didn’t have an answer for that initially.”
Even as teams get more film to dissect and arm themselves with the knowledge that they’ll likely see two quarterbacks, the Cajuns should be able to tax the limits of an opposing defense’s time during their week of preparation by forcing them to prepare for two different attacks.
“I think it puts tremendous stress on a defense,” Haack said. “It’s like a 1-2 combo.”
It’ll take time to see how it all shakes out for the Cajuns this season at quarterback. Since Hudspeth prefers to operate with one quarterback, it should be safe to assume either Haack or Nixon will eventually take the lion’s share of the snaps while the other is limited to certain packages.
But that time hasn’t arrived yet, and Hudspeth is at least happy that the reason the decision is so hard to make is because the players made it that way.
“It’ll be interesting to see,” Hudspeth said. “They both are deserving to be given another shot. They both played exceptionally well.”