If senior wide receiver Jamal Robinson’s absence proved anything, it’s that the Ragin’ Cajuns are a much better offense when he’s on the field.
That’s one way of looking at it. The other way is that the Cajuns’ depth isn’t quite where they want it to be.
Though he’s played in less than half of the season, Robinson leads the team in receiving by more than 100 yards and he’s one of just two receivers on the team averaging better than 10 yards per catch. Playing as one of two outside receivers in the Cajuns’ base offense, it’s Robinson’s duty to stretch the field vertically, but so far he’s been alone in that venture.
Coach Mark Hudspeth was honest when assessing the performance of his outside receivers not named Jamal Robinson this season.
“For one, they’ve got to win in coverage,” Hudspeth said. “You look before Jamal was back, our outside guys had really not been effective.”
The Cajuns tried a number of different players to fill the hole in the offense Robinson’s absence created. Jared Johnson and C.J. Bates both started a game and Devin Scott earned a handful of snaps as a deep threat, but none of them made much of an impact.
“The rest of the guys right now, Jared Johnson, Devin Scott, we had rotated those guys a lot earlier in the year and just didn’t quite get the production we had really hoped for,” Hudspeth said.
The numbers weren’t bad in the second half against Louisiana Tech, before teams had a chance to scout the Cajuns’ new outside receivers. But those numbers started to sag against Ole Miss before finally, against Boise State, the Cajuns outside receivers were shut out entirely.
Quarterback Terrance Broadway’s top option among outside receivers during Robinson’s absence was senior wide receiver James Butler, who made five catches against Ole Miss but has been otherwise quiet this season. Hudspeth said Butler’s role needs to expand as the season goes on.
“James Butler is the next most effective guy and we’ve got to get him touches,” Hudspeth said. “He’s an outstanding receiver.”
When Robinson returned to action against Georgia State, he and Butler played the vast majority of the snaps, something Hudspeth didn’t really want for Robinson in his first action after a four-week calendar break.
But the younger players have to prove they’re capable before they can spell the two seniors on the field.
“These guys have got to show us they’re a little more ready for prime time in order to get more snaps,” Hudspeth said. “They’re working hard and they have their flashes, but they’ve got to be more consistent. Hopefully they’ll get to that point.”
After getting a chance to review the film from Satruday’s game against Georgia State, Hudspeth was impressed by the way junior cornerback Jevante Watson played in his first start.
“I thought he competed for the ball a lot tighter than other corners have been doing,” Hudspeth said. “He was in great position on some deep balls, that was great to see. I thought he tried to play with good fundamentals and I thought he tackled well.”
Considering Watson’s emergence, the Cajuns’ top four in the defensive backfield is probably set for now, right? Not so fast.
“Watson’s spot is solidified, I don’t know about the other spots right now,” Hudspeth said. “We’re still playing with some different looks, some different people.”
Hudspeth’s answer was interesting, given that the other three spots are occupied by seniors who have 58 combined starts between them. But with the way the Cajuns have struggled against the pass this year, Hudspeth’s answer was not all that surprising.
Could that perhaps mean an expanded role for true freshman defensive back Travis Crawford? Hudspeth burned Crawford’s redshirt in the Georgia State win, giving him extensive playing time as a slot defender. Crawford responded with six tackles.
In addition to Crawford, the Cajuns have four other players who have seen significant playing time in the secondary this season in Dominick Jones, T.J. Worthy, Tracy Walker and Antoinne Adkins. Jones (three starts) and Worthy (one) have started at times this season.
“Last year we just weren’t in their ballpark. We were in the Sun Belt, but we weren’t in their league. They took us behind the woodshed and spanked us pretty good, but we like to think we are headed in the right direction.”
Texas State coach Dennis Franchione about last season’s 48-24 Cajuns win against Texas State according to the Texas State student newspaper, the University Star.