LAFAYETTE — Remember Elijah McGuire’s performance against Arkansas State last year?
The Red Wolves certainly do.
“I’m sure they’re looking forward to the challenge of going against Eli again,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said without a hint of sarcasm — though maybe some was warranted.
Said sophomore receiver Gabe Fuselier: “It was unbelievable how much he really ran for. I’m sure they’re going to game plan against him — I’ll be surprised if they don’t. He really hurt them.”
McGuire ran for a career-high 265 yards and chalked up a then-career-best four rushing touchdowns in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 55-40 win. He averaged nearly 13.9 yards per carry as he gashed Arkansas State for ground gains of 74, 54, 43 and 23 yards.
He was at his best in the fourth quarter. With the Cajuns’ lead cut from 34-9 to 41-32 with a little less than 6 minutes remaining, they turned to McGuire.
“The game was pretty close,” he said. “My teammates and my coaches got in my ear and said, ‘Man, we need some big runs. Stay inbounds if you can. If you score, that’d be fine.’ They gave me the ball, and I made some things happen.”
McGuire carried the ball four times in the fourth quarter for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Chances are, the Red Wolves also remember McGuire chalking up the second 100-yard rushing day of his career in 2013. In that game, he had 110 yards on just 10 carries, including a 70-yard burst.
His career totals against Arkansas State — 375 rushing yards on 29 carries, a 12.9-yard average — are far and away his best totals against any team.
Maybe he gets an extra boost from playing on national television. Both games against Arkansas State came in nationally televised Tuesday night matchups — as will this year’s, on ESPN2.
“He likes to play on the big stage, to show what he can do,” quarterback Jalen Nixon said. “Well, he likes to play, period. With talent like that, you can be showcased whether you’re on national TV or playing backyard football.”
Maybe there’s just something about Arkansas State that gets him going.
“No, I don’t think so,” McGuire said.
Whatever it is, Arkansas State surely wasn’t pleased to see what McGuire did last week against Texas State.
The Cajuns struggled to find the best way to use McGuire in his new feature back role early in the season. There was an adjustment period for McGuire and his coaches, who used to deploy McGuire as a change of pace.
Defenses keyed on his every move, which McGuire expects again this week, and the Cajuns couldn’t find a way to get him the ball in the open field, where he’s most dangerous. In losses to Kentucky, Akron and Louisiana Tech, McGuire was held largely in check, by his explosive standards. He gained 253 yards on 55 carries in those games, a 4.6-yard average per carry.
The Cajuns appeared to crack the code last week. McGuire finally had some room to work with, and he responded with a season-high 170 rushing yards on 28 carries.
“That took some really creative game-planning by our staff,” Hudspeth said. “They’ve done a really good job, because he’s gotten more touches and he’s gotten the ball in a variety of different ways to allow him to utilize his skills rather than just running between the tackles on the inside zone.
“That’s always critical for him, to get the ball in space to make plays, because he’s got that ability to make you miss, and he also can break tackles. He’s a strong runner, he’s very physical and I think he’s demonstrated that in the past.”