Louisiana-Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth was convinced in the immediate aftermath of his team’s 34-9 loss at Boise State that his big-time playmaker didn’t have the ball in his hands enough.
It has been somewhat of a refrain this season for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who have been searching for the best way to let sophomore running back Elijah McGuire turn in the home run play the offense has missed.
“We’ve got to create some ways to get our playmakers the ball,” Hudspeth said after the loss to Boise State. “You’re going to see a different look. We’ve got to some guys the ball more. We’re not getting Eli enough touches.”
But after getting a chance to go back and look at the film from Saturday’s game, Hudspeth backed off a bit. McGuire was on the field for 32 plays, and 17 of them ended with the ball in his hands.
That’s the thing with McGuire, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and 8.9 yards on his 16 receptions this season. Coaches feel like they can’t give him the ball enough.
And while McGuire may have gotten more touches than Hudspeth originally realized last week, it’s still on the low end of how he has envisioned McGuire being used this season.
“Fifteen to 17 (touches) is the minimum that he needs, and not just handing the ball off in the backfield,” Hudspeth said. “We need him to make some explosive plays, and we need to put him in position to make some explosive plays. I don’t want all 15 touches to be the inside run game for him.”
As Boise State’s tough defense ground the Cajuns run game to a pulp, the coaches may have realized the best way to do that. McGuire finished with a career-high 10 catches last week, finishing with 106 yards.
Catching passes out of the backfield is nothing new for McGuire, who had a pair of games with 90-plus receiving yards last season. But his role in the passing game has been bigger this season.
“I’ll do whatever for this team to try to help us win and make us be a better team,” he said.
Getting the ball to McGuire in space is a no-brainer for offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, but he also said the Cajuns can’t just force-feed McGuire the ball.
“It’s good to get him in space, obviously, because of his skill level being as it is,” Johnson said. “But that comes to (senior quarterback) Terrance Broadway too, working through his progressions to get him the ball.”
Without senior receiver Jamal Robinson on the field, the Cajuns know McGuire is their lone big-play threat, and their opponents know that, too.
“Anytime you flex him out anywhere, there’s just a red light going off all over the field,” Hudspeth said. “A flashing light over his head — ‘Watch this guy! Watch this guy!’ So we’ve got to have help from some other guys making big plays.”
Even with the added attention, McGuire was able to gain 137 yards from scrimmage against Boise — and that’s 33 more than the rest of his teammates were able to muster.
“Eli is going to make his explosive plays regardless of any situation,” Broadway said.
That’s not a sustainable way to play offense, though, as the Cajuns have shown in the first four games.
“When he’s the only one making plays, it can be kind of difficult,” Broadway said. “But when we have other guys around him making plays also, it really opens up our offense real well.”
The Cajuns are hoping to have Robinson back for next weekend’s game against Georgia State, which could open up a crease for McGuire to do what he does best.
Until then, the Cajuns will keep reminding themselves to get the ball to McGuire more often.
“Now we’re trying to get him the ball more, design plays for him, just to liven the offense up and get everybody around him going,” Broadway said. “So everybody could feed off his energy.”