LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the most part, University of Louisiana at Lafayette freshman receiver Gary Haynes didn’t show his age.
Filling in for an injured Al Riles, Haynes hauled in a team-high eight catches, a couple of which went for crucial first downs.
On fourth-and-5 from the Kentucky 24-yard line, Quarterback Brooks Haack found Haynes on a crossing route for a 13-yard gain, setting up the Cajuns’ first touchdown of the game.
The next series served as a reminder that Haynes still has some to learn about the college game. He caught a jet sweep, and when he found no room to run, he tried reversing his field and getting around the Kentucky defense by going backward. The Wildcats dropped him for a 12-yard loss.
“Boy, that guy’s exciting to watch,” Hudspeth said. “A little too exciting at times, but he’s going to improve, he’s going to learn from that.
“I called him over to the sideline after he reversed field and ran backward and said, ‘Man, this ain’t high school. They all fast. Especially in the SEC.’”
Haynes drew rave reviews from the Cajuns coaching staff during preseason camp. Though he stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 175 pounds, the Cajuns were enamored by his quickness and his agility out of the slot.
Haynes also proved a quick study of the Cajuns’ offensive scheme, allowing the Cajuns to comfortably move Gabe Fuselier outside from the slot after Jared Johnson was lost for the season in one of the Cajuns’ first practices of the summer.
But Haynes wasn’t the only true freshman to turn in a strong performance.
Punter Steven Coutts, an Australian playing in his first American football game, punted five times for 217 yards with a long of 51, one punt downed inside the 20 and no touchbacks.
From the Cajuns’ 37-yard line, Coutts deftly placed a ball down the middle of the field, dropping it inside the 5-yard line and allowing the Cajuns to down it at the 1-yard line.
He also narrowly avoided disaster. Kentucky sniffed out a rugby-style kick and rushed Coutts as he tried to kick on the run. Coutts somehow kicked the ball between a Kentucky defender’s outstretched arms, and the punt rolled to a stop 50 yards downfield.
Freshman kicker Stevie Artigue connected on his first collegiate field-goal attempt, a 31-yarder, but he struggled with the squib kicks the Cajuns employed in the first half.
Artigue still averaged 57 yards on his six kickoffs, just 3½ yards shorter than Hunter Stover averaged last season.
Turnovers hurt the Cajuns early last season — both the ones they committed and the ones they failed to create defensively — and they found themselves facing the same problem Saturday.
A 12-play, 75-yard drive that likely would have resulted in a score ended when Jamal Robinson was stripped while fighting for extra yards at the Kentucky 5-yard line. Kentucky followed with a five-play, 95-yard touchdown drive to make it 21-0.
The Cajuns had the ball near midfield near the end of the first half and were facing a third-and-short, but Haack underthrew a deep ball down the sidelines for Devin Scott and was intercepted by J.D. Harmon at the Kentucky 19.
Before the Cajuns started their comeback in the second half, Elijah McGuire muffed a punt, allowing the Wildcats to pick it up at the Cajuns 21-yard line, resulting in a field goal.
The Cajuns committed four turnovers while forcing just one — a Tracy Walker interception — which made all the difference in a game they lost by one score.
Odds and ends
The Cajuns outgained the Wildcats 479-435 Saturday, including a 282-132 margin in the second half … The 479 total yards of offense were the most the Cajuns have gained against a Power Five conference school since they racked up 509 yards against Kansas State in 2008 … The Cajuns went 3-for-4 on fourth downs, with the only miss coming on the Hail Mary pass at the end of the game.