Ragin’ Cajuns hold off on naming a starting quarterback (again) _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD KEMP -- Quarterbacks Brooks Haack (9) and Jalen Nixon (6) go through drills during a Louisiana-Lafayette football practice Sept. 9.

LAFAYETTE – UL-Lafayette has made a decision on its starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Louisiana Tech — and, in keeping with this year’s theme, it isn’t planning on releasing that information before kickoff.

At least not publicly.

“We’ve already told them,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “They already know who’s starting.”

Brooks Haack, who has started the first three games, and Jalen Nixon, who has played well in relief of Haack, have split repetitions with the first-team offense throughout the week. That continued at Thursday’s practice.

Both have played in every game they’ve been healthy for. That trend will also continue Saturday, Hudspeth said. But the amount of playing time will continue to be determined by the flow of the game.

Hudspeth said it could be “a spot thing,” with the backup coming in to execute in a particular situation, as Nixon did on short-yardage downs early in the Kentucky game. It could be to spark the team after a slow start, as Nixon also did against Kentucky.

Or, if the Cajuns get off to a great start with the starter, the opportunities could be limited for the backup.

“We do have some plays dialed in for certain quarterbacks, but the ... extensive playing time will depend on how we’re doing,” Hudspeth said.

Haack has been up and down as the starter. He has thrown three interceptions — one of them was a desperation heave on fourth down as the Cajuns final offensive play against Kentucky, and another was an ill-advised throw into double coverage. He also turned in a highly effective day against Northwestern State, completing 7 of 8 attempts for 187 yards.

Nixon’s playing time has largely come with the Cajuns well behind on the scoreboard, but he has engineered more scoring drives than Haack has and has completed a higher percentage of his throws. He also accounted for two of the Cajuns’ four turnovers in their 35-14 loss to Akron last week.

As Hudspeth said Monday, the job will eventually go to the quarterback who does the best job putting the team in the end zone. He did admit, though, that this has been a difficult decision to make on a weekly basis.

“It’s important to both of them, they both are good kids that are doing everything we’ve asked them to do and our team believes in both of them,” Hudspeth said. “Eventually, we’re going to go with who is producing in the games. This will be the next step in seeing if we can make that decision.”

Preventative measures

Want to know one reason why the Cajuns have largely remained out of the news for the wrong reasons during Hudspeth’s tenure? They address problems before they arise.

Take freshman wide receiver Gary Haynes’ suspension last week. Hudspeth said the team took a preventative rather than reactive approach to correct some poor decision-making before it swelled into a larger problem.

“He caught eight passes, first game in his career. He looked too good to be on time for weights, too good to be on time for meetings, so we fixed that,” Hudspeth said. “I think we got his attention.”

No out-kicking coverage

Freshman punter Steven Coutts’ leg is so strong, Hudspeth has had to ask him to dial it back a little bit.

“I have to tell him not to kick it so far, because to be honest with you he could really outkick our coverage,” Hudspeth said. “So I tell him to try to kick it higher with less length. He can kick it 60, 65, 70 yards. It’s unreal.”

It’s evident from watching Coutts during pregame warmups that Hudspeth isn’t embellishing. Coutts, an Australia native who never played a competitive game of football before the Kentucky game, routinely bangs the ball 65-70 yards downfield.

“He’s untapped,” Hudspeth said. “This kid is going to be a weapon for us and if he continues like that, this kid’s going to make a lot of money one day in the National Football League.”