The Louisiana-Lafayette offense is flying high and flourishing under first-year offensive coordinator Will Hall.
The Cajuns are averaging 41 points and nearly 450 total yards of offense, almost doubling their offensive output of just 23.6 points per game from 2016. Coach Mark Hudspeth’s decision to bring in Hall, a former quarterback from Hudspeth's time as head coach at North Alabama, certainly seems to be paying off.
Hall brought with him a new scheme and a new confidence that was quickly picked up by the Cajuns offense. Included in that scheme is something Cajuns fans haven’t seen since Hudspeth’s first year on campus: a real role and real involvement from the tight end position. Over the course of the past two seasons, Cajuns tight ends have caught just 29 passes for 258 yards.
While the numbers might not bear it out yet – just three catches for 26 yards so far this season – coaches said tight ends have been used more in the passing game this season compared to years past.
UL-Lafayette has honed in on two very different players to resurrect the tight end play in senior Raynard Ford and freshman Chase Rogers. Each has caused matchup problems for defenses, allowing Hall to operate like a mad genius and experiment as he draws up plays.
“I think one thing tight ends give you is versatility," Hall said. "I think the ability to line up on the line of scrimmage and then the ability to line up out wide at wide receiver, the ability to line up in the backfield as a fullback. ... Tight ends bring versatility; we're very fortunate to have those guys.”
Both Ford and Rogers possess unique a skill set that Hall has been able to incorporate into the offense.
For Ford, a 290-pound converted offensive tackle, the move to tight end has been challenging, but Ford has embraced it. Ford played quarterback in high school and went to junior college as a QB, so he's no stranger to having the ball in his hands. That's something Hall hopes to see more of as the season moves forward.
“If you can get it to a 290-pounder in the flat versus a little guy and that little guy has to tackle him, he can really punish that little guy,” Hall said. “I have not done a good job of that early on, and that's something we would like to do more of moving forward.”
Hall was quick to point out that Ford’s progression as a tight end could not have happened without the tutelage of assistant coach Reed Stringer.
The Cajuns' other option at tight end is the freshman Rogers.
“Chase is just a 245-pound wide receiver that's really aggressive in the run game," Hall said. “Chase gives you a lot of versatility out there.”
Rogers, a highly sought-after recruit who held offers from SEC programs such as Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State, has demonstrated not only an ability to make plays but a hunger to get better and learn every day.
“He's very driven to be great, and he's still growing.” Hall said. “He's better this week than he was last week, and he will only continue to improve. The sky's the limit for him and what he can become.”
Whether those accolades turn into a big statistical performance from the tight end position remains to be seen. But whether it's Ford, Rogers or maybe even Matt Barnes, who is making his way back from injury, the Cajuns' tight ends are making more of a mark this season.