LAFAYETTE — It was Tuesday, two and a half days removed from the game against Kentucky, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette junior running back Elijah McGuire still looked beat.
A career-high 31 touches, many of them going right into the teeth of Kentucky’s front seven, can do that to a man.
“Oh man, I was so sore,” McGuire said. “I’ve never felt anything like it. It’s just something I have to get used to, getting that many carries at the college level. I never did that in the last few years.
“I think me being the featured back is something I’ll have to adjust to.”
It’s an adjustment he’ll have to make, because coach Mark Hudspeth said that number isn’t going to drop by too much as the season progresses.
The Cajuns’ top offensive weapon is going to be fed the ball at a much higher rate this season than he ever has — even dating to his high school days at Vandebilt Catholic.
The key for the Cajuns is finding the right ways to get him the ball.
That proved to be a challenge against Kentucky, which appeared to devote its defensive game plan toward stopping McGuire, no matter where he was on the field.
That trend is likely to continue until another player steps up to give defenses something to think about.
“That’s one of those things that each week, everybody’s game plan is going to be, ‘Where’s 15?’” junior quarterback Brooks Haack said. “You have to know where he is at all times on the field.”
The Cajuns would like to manufacture a way to get McGuire the ball in space where his elusiveness makes him a true terror to defenses, but doing so will require some creativity. It’s not as simple as putting McGuire out on the perimeter.
The best way for the Cajuns to open up lanes for McGuire to exploit might be to intentionally not give him the ball.
“When you put Eli out wide, all sirens are going off in the stadium,” Hudspeth said. “You’ve got to also know that when he’s not dotting the I back there or back behind the quarterback, it’s high DEFCON 5 when he’s somewhere else.
“Everybody knows that, it’s not that easy. Sometimes, he’s a better distraction out wide for somebody else than to give him the ball.”
By using their best offensive player as a decoy, the Cajuns would theoretically be able to draw defenders’ eyes away from the other players on their offense, allowing them an easier avenue down the field and in turn requiring the defense to devote less attention to McGuire.
“Of course he’s a great back, a great player, so a lot of teams are going to key in on him regardless of what we do,” junior quarterback Jalen Nixon said. “But if that’s the case, that means other guys have to step up and help him. We play to another level then they can’t be concerned about one player, they have to stop all of us. Take the stress off him by stepping up and making plays.”
By McGuire’s standards, Week 1 won’t leave a lasting impression on his career highlight reel. He racked up 140 total yards against Kentucky, but averaged only 4.4 yards per touch, well below his career average.
But McGuire isn’t worrying too much about the production.
He knows that things are going to be harder for him this year, both because of the added attention and volume of work. But he’s also patient enough to know that he’ll get his eventually, even if it requires a couple of bruises along the way.
“Ain’t nothing going to be easy this year,” McGuire said. “Everything’s going to be a fight.”