No catches so far, but tight ends playing big role for Cajuns _lowres

Photo by Brad Kemp/ Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Nick Byrne runs a pass route during practice in August.

LAFAYETTE — Through two games, Louisiana-Lafayette tight ends have combined to catch exactly zero passes — but that’s not to say they haven’t made an impact.

It was Nick Byrne who set a key block on Jalen Nixon’s 23-yard touchdown run against Kentucky that set the Cajuns up to tie the game. It was Byrne again setting a firm block on the edge that allowed Elijah McGuire a clear lane to the second level on his 88-yard touchdown against Northwestern State.

The offensive line and the running backs haven’t been the only reason the Cajuns have averaged better than 300 rushing yards per game. The tight ends have played a crucial role in the offense’s production, even if the stats don’t show it.

“They’re very effective in the run game,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “Not to say they can’t catch the ball … we’re just utilizing them a little bit different right now within the game plans.”

When Byrne, a redshirt junior, first came to the Cajuns, he said he “liked to run around” and make plays in the passing game.

It took him a while, but he’s grown more and more comfortable with his blocking role in the Cajuns offense. He understands he has a role, and he’s willing to play the part — whatever that may be.

“I just go out and do what (tight ends coach Reed) Stringer and coach Hud ask me to do, and whatever they need me to do I’ll do,” Byrne said.

As far as contributing in the passing game goes, Hudspeth said the players will have to make their own opportunities there.

“Our tight ends catch as many balls as they allow us to throw to them, if that makes sense,” Hudspeth said.

The Cajuns tight ends caught 29 passes last season, or 12 percent of the team’s receptions. The year before, the tight ends accounted for 23 grabs (11.8 percent).

Fixing mental errors

On top of the added time helping to heal a rash of shoulder injuries, the open date in the schedule allowed the Cajuns’ coaching staff time to dig into the game film and identify the mental errors that have hurt them defensively in the first few weeks.

The defense has been, for the most part, solid. But there were concerning lapses that needed to be addressed.

“It allowed us to go back and look at the first two games and say, ‘OK, this is where we were. Let’s assess, and then let’s move forward and see how we can improve. See things we like. Do we have the guys in right positions?’ ” Hudspeth said.

With the players still learning the intricacies of a new defensive system, linebacker Tre’maine Lightfoot said the only way the Cajuns will get better in that area is to experience the issues in the game.

Once those issues were identified, the Cajuns put in the time to fix them.

“We went over a lot of stuff that we had busted on,” Lightfoot said. “It’s still learning the defense, and everybody’s getting it down pat so we can run it to perfection.”

Tatford semifinalist for award

Senior tight end Evan Tatford was one of 135 players named as a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy on Thursday. The award is presented annually to the college football player who best exemplifies strength in academics, community service and on field performance.

Tatford, who has compiled a 3.76 GPA while studying for a biology degree, was named Louisiana-Lafayette’s male student athlete of the year and has also been a member of the Dean’s List, the President’s List and the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List.

The National Football Foundation will announce 15 finalists on October 29, all of whom will be awarded $18,000 in post-graduate scholarship money. The winner of the Campbell trophy will receive an additional $7,000.