LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette may have found itself a full-time punt returer.
True freshman receiver Gary Haynes ripped off the Cajuns’ two longest punt returns of the season — which wasn’t that hard, because the Cajuns came into the game with minus-3 punt return yards.
Coach Mark Hudspeth said earlier in the week it would be a matter of time before Haynes got his shot, he just needed to prove he could be trusted to play a high-risk position.
The Cajuns eased him into that role at first with some trickery.
Usual returner Elijah McGuire deked Texas State’s punt coverage unit by faking a catch on the wrong side of the field. Haynes was able to field the punt unburdened by pressure, and he returned it into Bobcats territory.
There was no fake on the next punt, but Haynes made a nice over-the-shoulder catch on a punt, then made a man miss and turned upfield for an 18-yard gain. At the end of that return, Haynes bowled over a much larger Texas State defender to send the Cajuns sideline into a frenzy.
Haynes’ 44 punt-return yards were the most in a single game by a Cajuns punt returner since Darryl Surgent had 44 punt-return yards against Tulane in the 2013 New Orleans Bowl.
The strong performance was enough for coach Mark Hudspeth to consider making Haynes the top punt returner.
“We’re going to look at him this week,” Hudspeth said. “He could be the guy. He’s a dynamic guy back there returning punts, he did a good job. We’re going to take a look at that this week and that definitely will be considered.”
Middle linebacker Tre’maine Lightfoot, who started the past two games, did not suit up for the Texas State contest as he nursed a shoulder injury.
T.J. Posey, who started the first two games, started in Lightfoot’s place.
Safety T.J. Worthy (hamstring) suited up for the game, but it appears he was used only for an emergency situation, as the team was playing without starting cornerback Troy McCollum, forcing Dominick Jones to serve as a backup at both safety and corner.
Mr. Do (Almost) Everything
McGuire ran the ball, caught the ball, returned punts and served as a decoy. He also got a chance to throw the ball.
The Cajuns, who had been working on a halfback pass in practice for the last several weeks, called McGuire’s number in the second quarter, but Texas State sniffed it out and the pass fell harmlessly incomplete.
This is the second halfback pass in McGuire’s career. He also threw one last year in the Sun Belt Conference opener against Georgia State.
D’Aquin Withrow, making his first career start after it was learned Mykhael Quave’s Cajuns’ career was over, played well at left tackle. The Cajuns did not allow a sack, and the only time Withrow drew attention to himself was on a holding penalty.
Movin’ on up
With his first touchdown catch of the game, Jamal Robinson moved into sole possession of fifth place on the Cajuns’ all-time receiving touchdowns list. He was previously tied with Javone Lawson.
Robinson now has 17 career receiving touchdowns, putting him two behind Fred Stamps and eight behind Cajuns all-time leader Brandon Stokley.
Robinson also finished the game with 67 receiving yards, leaving him two yards shy of tying Wade Butler for 6th on the school’s all-time receiving yardage list.
ODDS AND ENDS
Wide receiver Al Riles, who set a career-high in receiving yards against Texas State last season, set a new career high in both yards (98) and receptions (9) … Jeryl Brazil’s 100-yard kick return touchdown was the first return touchdown for the Cajuns since Surgent’s 100-yard effort against Kansas State in 2013 … Texas State return man Brandon Smith, who had a 95-yard return right before Brazil, is no stranger to kick return touchdowns in Cajun Field. Entering Saturday’s game, he had two kick return touchdowns in his career – both of them in a 2013 Texas State loss at Cajun Field.