There are plenty of options available when looking for reasons why the University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team, winners of three straight, have turned things around after an abysmal 1-3 start.
The offense has found its groove, even without stud wide receiver Jamal Robinson. The new-look defense has been getting after the quarterback and flying to the ball. Part of it can even be chalked up to playing against the Sun Belt Conference instead of teams like Ole Miss and Boise State.
But it’s hard to imagine the Cajuns being where they are if they would’ve kept their almost comically bad pace for turnover margin at the beginning of the year.
The Cajuns forced just one turnover in their first five games, which was the worst mark in the country. They weren’t much better at taking care of the football, and their turnover margin sat at an ugly minus-8.
But coach Mark Hudspeth was encouraged by some positive signs and maintained that the turnaround was coming soon. After forcing three turnovers in their past two games, it looks like Hudspeth was right.
Not only have the turnovers kept the opposing offense from scoring, but they’ve also led directly to points, including one fumble that defensive tackle Christian Ringo returned 41 yards for a score.
The Cajuns have turned things around on the offensive end, too. That’s a pretty big indicator as to why their season has turned for the better lately.
“Two games out of the last three, we’ve had perfect ball security, which is huge,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve only had one turnover in three games, and we’ve won our last three games. It’s really not that complicated.”
Talkin’ bout practice
Running back Elijah McGuire certainly looked like he made the most of his practice reps last week when he ran for 265 yards and four scores.
But as he deals with a nagging turf toe injury, Hudspeth is experimenting with when to hold McGuire and when to run him.
“He’s practiced, but we’ve limited his reps in practice,” Hudspeth said.
The idea is to load up McGuire’s practice reps early in the week, then let him recover later in the week as game day draws nearer.
“When you’ve got a racehorse, you don’t see those guys at the Kentucky Derby taking those guys out the day before the Derby and smoking them,” Hudspeth said. “They’re rested up. We’re really making sure him and some of those guys are really rested, making sure that turf toe has had a little more recovery time.
“I think it paid off the other night.”
It certainly looked like it at least. As dominant as McGuire was from start to finish, he was most special in the fourth quarter when he carried the ball four times for 93 yards and a pair of scores.
Hudspeth laughed at the notion that McGuire should stay off the practice field entirely if fresh legs result in the type of performance he turned in.
Maybe, Hudspeth said, if McGuire wasn’t such a versatile player. But the fact that the Cajuns shift McGuire all over the field means there is a lot of information that McGuire has to process, and if he doesn’t work on it in practice, his reaction gets slower on the field.
“For a running back, that’s a big learning curve,” Hudspeth said. “He has to do a really good job of that, and (running backs coach Marquase) Lovings has done a great job in his preparation.”
“A couple big plays we’ve got to do a better job of eliminating, but overall defensively, I thought we set the edge better, I thought we got pressure on the quarterback. We lost contain a couple times, but we got pressure on the quarterback. We’ve got to continue to do that.” — Hudspeth after the Cajuns’ 55-40 win against Arkansas State. The Cajuns have improved defensively, but they gave up three touchdowns of 60 or more yards against the Red Wolves. The Cajuns have given up eight plays of 60 yards or longer this season, the second-worst mark in the country.