When the Ragin’ Cajuns offense lines up against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, it’ll have at least one distinct physical advantage — and that’s the way it was planned.
The Cajuns will trot out 6-foot-4 Jamal Robinson and 6-foot-3 James Butler as starting wide receivers. Behind them, 6-foot-5 Jared Johnson, 6-foot-4 Scott Austin and 6-foot-1 C.J. Bates will take reps.
Louisiana Tech has a talented defensive backfield, but only one member of its two-deep rotation stands taller than six feet — 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore safety Lloyd Grogan.
Advantage: Cajuns. Just how coach Mark Hudspeth drew it up when he signed all those wide receivers.
“In recruiting, coach Hud likes them big; he likes them tall,” said wide receivers coach Jorge Munoz.
Hudspeth’s recruiting philosophy starts with the ideal: a 6-foot-4 or taller wide receiver who possesses elite-level speed. Not only are those rare, but the ones that do exist are recruited by virtually every college coach in the country.
If the Cajuns staff can’t land the ideal, their ratings are based on a give-and-take system. Imagine a graph, with one axis being height and one axis being speed. The closer a player gets to the origin, the less likely they are to be recruited by the Cajuns.
“So what we do is we say, ‘OK, we understand we can’t get that guy, but the bigger they are, the more OK we are getting a guy who is not as fast. The smaller they are, they’ve got to be fast,’” Munoz said. “That’s the trade-off that we have.”
Hudspeth put it more succinctly.
“If you’re little, you have to be unreal fast and really dynamic,” Hudspeth said. “You’ve got to be lightning in a bottle.”
The size isn’t just so players can go up and win a jump ball. When Hudspeth and his staff look at big receivers, they gauge how well the players can control their size and use it to their advantage.
A good example of that came in Saturday’s win against Southern. Johnson used his listed 6-foot-5 frame to outmuscle a Jaguars defensive back on a fade route in the end zone.
It’s not simply using height to go up and get the ball, but using size as a whole to make it impossible for the defender to make a play.
“That’s why we recruit big players,” Hudspeth said. “Not just to throw the fades, but strong players that are strong enough to grab (defensive backs) and pull through them. Can run good, strong routes, have good, strong hands.”
Of course, size and speed aren’t the only traits the Cajuns staff looks for in receivers.
Robinson, who was a member of Hudspeth’s first recruiting class in 2011, fits the mold. But he’s not abnormally large and not abnormally fast. He makes up for that with his ability to seize the ball at the highest point.
Robinson did just that on three separate occasions against Southern, beating a defender for a contested catch. Not all of the throws from quarterback Terrance Broadway were precisely on target, but as long as they’re in the area, Robinson has a chance. That’s the idea, Butler said.
“He can miss in a lot of places, and we’re able to make a lot of plays for him,” Butler said. “He can throw it up, and we have range to go out and get it.”
It’s all part of one cohesive scheme. Defensive coordinators must devote attention to the Cajuns’ high-powered rushing attack featuring a pair of talented runners in Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris. That leaves the door open for the big and physical outside receivers to compete on an island against mismatched corners.
“We get a lot of one-on-one matchups running the ball with Elijah and Alonzo,” Broadway said. “It’s big for us to have some guys on the outside who can go up and get the ball in the red zone.”