Editor’s note: This is the final part of a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Cajuns approach their Wednesday report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth beat everybody to the punch at Sun Belt Conference Media Day on July 20.
“We’ve got three (quarterback) candidates,” Hudspeth said in his opening statement. “Don’t ask me today who the starter is going to be. When you find out will be the same time Mark Stoops at Kentucky finds out: when we run out on the field for the first play of the game.”
The answer to the question that’s been hanging over Hudspeth’s head since Terrance Broadway took his final snap in last year’s New Orleans Bowl won’t officially have an answer until Sept. 5, but Hudspeth and his staff will unofficially make a decision well-before that day.
Don’t forget, this is a game that started well before Wednesday’s report date. Hudspeth said in the early days of spring practice that Brooks Haack appeared to have a leg up on the starting gig, only to slide back by the end of spring practice to say that the race was too close to call and would continue during the fall.
Hudspeth is determined to find whatever advantage he can, and that includes controlling information that could help Kentucky’s game plan for what promises to be a different-looking group of Cajuns.
But that doesn’t stop one from laying everything out on the table and making an educated guess.
Using conventional wisdom, Haack is a good as good of a bet as any to line up behind the center on opening day in Lexington, Kentucky.
As Broadway’s primary backup last season, Haack thrived, completing 20 of his 23 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Not all of that came in garbage time, either.
Trailing Georgia State 31-28, with a little more than six minutes remaining, Haack entered for an injured Broadway and directed the Cajuns on a long drive downfield.
He went 4-for-4 for 50 yards on the drive, including two huge third-down completions to keep the drive alive. He yielded the offense to Broadway at the end of the drive, setting up a game-winning touchdown pass.
Haack’s strong right arm brings a downfield element that was missing from the Cajuns’ attack a year ago, and he showed that during spring practices when coaches routinely told him to let it fly.
But Haack doesn’t necessarily possess the complete range of skills offered by redshirt freshman Jordan Davis, who combines a strong arm with superior mobility.
The only knock on Davis is that he’s never seen the field before. Both Haack and the other quarterback in the race, Jalen Nixon, were thrown into the fire as redshirt freshmen after Broadway broke his arm late in the 2013 season, and neither played well.
While Davis’ array of skills have forced his name into consideration, the coaching staff might be reluctant to put him on the field for the first time against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
If the name of the game was continuity, Nixon might be the top choice. He most closely resembles what Broadway brought to the table, as he might be the most dynamic runner of the bunch.
But it terms of pure passing ability, Nixon appears to be behind both Haack and Davis. He might be the odd man out when it comes to the quarterback competition, but it’s not hard to see the Cajuns implementing a game-day package with Nixon running the read option that the Cajuns have used effectively in recent seasons.
It might not even be a three-horse race, as Hudspeth is suggesting. He slipped a couple of times when discussing his quarterbacks, most notably when he said four people would know the outcome of the decision early: Himself, offensive coordinator Jay Johnson and the quarterbacks.
And then there were two, said elementary math.
We’ll let you know on game day, said Hudspeth.