Any college football team in the country would like to have the consistency that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has boasted in the offensive line recently.
At no point since 2011 — each year that Mark Hudspeth has been head coach and Thibodaux native Mitch Rodrigue has tutored the offensive front — have the Ragin’ Cajuns made an in-season lineup change. The same five players that started the season opener in each of those four years have wound up starting all 13 games, and at the same position at which they opened the season.
“That’s pretty remarkable,” Hudspeth said. “That says something for the type of players those guys have been, and we don’t expect anything different this year. We’ve got some guys that have played a lot and have played well in the last three years.”
“It’s a challenge to keep going what you have going,” said senior Octravian Anderson, who has started 26 straight games at right tackle. “Every year’s a new year, and there’s new guys. It’s a challenge that we have to accept in the offensive line.”
The Cajuns lost 78 career starts to graduation with the departure of four-year regular Michael Quave, whose 52 consecutive starts is tied for second-most in NCAA history among FBS schools, and two-year regular Terry Johnson. But Rodrigue’s group also returns 78 career starts, even though only Anderson is back in the same position as last season.
UL-Lafayette will also be breaking in a new center, the most pivotal position in that front group in the Cajuns scheme. The task of making formation calls and checks now falls on junior Eddie Gordon, who spelled Johnson last year and also saw some time at right guard.
“It starts with our center, and you look at our history and it’s pretty strong,” offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said. “Andre Huval, what he did here was phenomenal. And we had that big question mark at this time last year, and look at what Terry Johnson came in and did for us.”
“It’s going to be different,” Gordon said. “People are switching a little, and it was kind of hard at first. But it’s for the better of the team, so people are willing to do it.”
Senior Donovan Williams is one of those switches. Williams came from Blinn College and stepped immediately into the starting role at left guard last year. Barring last-minute changes, something that hasn’t happened in the offensive line for a while, he’ll open up at right guard for the Sept. 5 opener at Kentucky.
“It’s something we had to do,” Williams said of the move. “Coach Rod moved people around, and I think he did a great job of getting people in the right spots. And the new guys have done a great job. Now we just have to do what we have to do.”
The other major move sent senior Quave one step inside, going from left tackle to left guard. The younger brother of former Cajuns standout lineman Daniel Quave, Mykhael Quave started all 13 games as a freshman in that guard role before moving outside the past two seasons. He was on the Lombardi Award watch list as a tackle during his junior season, one in which he continued a streak of 39 straight starts that will carry over to this year’s opener.
Quave is already on those watch lists again and was on every preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team this summer, with the notable exception of the league coaches, who slotted him on the second team. If he has a chip on his shoulder from that slight, he’s not showing it.
“We’re not putting any added pressure that we don’t need on ourselves,” he said. “All we’re focused on is Kentucky. We’re taking everything step by step. It sounds cliché, but that’s really how you have to do it.”
Along with Gordon, Grant Horst is the other new face. The Alabama native played in six games last year and is slotted at left tackle on the early depth chart.
The consistency the group has shown will be needed once again, because depth up front is a huge concern. Three redshirt freshmen and Harvey-West Jefferson sophomore D’Aquin Withrow, who played in two games last year, are the next four listed on the preseason depth chart.
“That first group is going to be very solid,” Johnson said. “We need some of the younger guys that you haven’t seen as much but have had some promising springs. Grant had injury issues, but he’s really strong. And D’Aquin is a really good young talent.”