SAN MARCOS, Texas — To heck with the status quo. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette won the toss, and the Cajuns wanted the ball.
They could’ve deferred their decision to the second half, like most teams do when they win the toss. That would’ve been the rational and logical decision.
But ration and logic aren’t always the best way to approach the situation. Sometimes it’s better to send a message.
“Let’s come out, take the football and try to set the tone,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said.
Earlier this week, the Cajuns players and coaches talked about how last season’s 48-24 dismantling of Texas State at Cajun Field was a statement game.
It was time to make another statement.
From the opening kick to the final gun, the Cajuns (3-3, 2-0) dominated the Bobcats (3-3, 1-1) on their own field 34-10.
The Cajuns have been waiting to put this type of complete game together all season. And with one decision at the beginning of the game, they said they were ready.
On the Cajuns’ second play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Terrance Broadway faked a jet sweep handoff to receiver Al Riles. It was the type of play the Cajuns used with a ton of success the prior week against Georgia State.
“We’ve ran that the first play for the past two games,” Broadway said. “We knew they were going to bite on it.”
The safety shaded toward Jamal Robinson, and the rest of the Bobcats defense sucked in and lost track of star running back Elijah McGuire, who was running free on a wheel route.
Broadway dropped the throw on a dime, and McGuire did the rest, taking it 62 yards to the house. Like the decision to take the ball first, it was a bold move, and the Cajuns boldness paid off in a big way.
“I liked the mindset that our guys came out with,” Hudspeth said. “I thought (offensive coordinator Jay Johnson) called a great game. We were way more aggressive early, taking some shots, taking some opportunities to get Eli some touches, and it paid off.”
McGuire’s 62-yard touchdown was just the beginning of a big-play kind of night for the Cajuns, but it set the tone for the win.
Considering how poorly the Cajuns defense has played at times this season, it seems rather curious to say the team had the game won after the second play.
But the Cajuns defense that showed up Tuesday night was nothing like any Cajuns defense that has taken the field this season.
They harassed Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones. And when he handed the ball off, they harassed the running backs. The Bobcats came into the game averaging nearly 500 yards per game, but they managed just 270 yards against the Cajuns suddenly stout defense — 77 of which came on a garbage-time touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
Hudspeth made sweeping personnel changes to his linebacker unit in the days leading up to the game, dropping T.J. Worthy from safety to outside linebacker and moving Dominique Tovell to the inside.
The speed looked like it helped, containing a Bobcat ground attack that rolled up 390 yards against a hapless Idaho team last week.
“I thought they played well tonight,” Hudspeth said of his linebackers.
But Hudspeth failed to mention that he dressed Reggie White in Christian Ringo’s No. 9 uniform.
Ringo was virtually unblockable Tuesday night. Three of his four tackles went for a loss, including two of the Cajuns’ four sacks. His biggest play of the night came when one of his teammates picked up a sack, though.
Ringo scooped up the ball after senior linebacker Trae Johnson’s strip sack in the second quarter and raced 41 yards to the end zone to give the Cajuns a 14-0 lead.
Any hope for some Tuesday night magic from the Texas State faithful in attendance seemed to die after that, and the Cajuns capitalized on the momentum shift.
Broadway played his best game of his senior season. Playing without his best receiver for all but four plays, Broadway took it on himself to open up the Cajuns passing lanes by gashing the Bobcats on the ground.
He gained 113 yards on the night mostly on read-option keepers. Broadway ran hard to soften up the Bobcats run defense, and he hit the passes when it mattered.
“I’ve got a friend on Texas State … and he told me after the game, ‘We didn’t even prepare for you to run the ball,’” Broadway said. “It was big for us. We haven’t done it too much this season. It paid off for us to have it in our back pocket tonight.”
He had some help from McGuire, who finished the night with 149 total yards and two touchdowns on 12 touches. And just as McGuire gave the Cajuns the early lead, he put the game on ice later.
McGuire juked two Bobcat defenders on a 36-yard run down to the Bobcats’ 1-yard line, leaving Alonzo Harris to punch it in the next play to give the Cajuns a 21-3 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, McGuire somehow kept his balance and kept his body inbounds, even though the laws of gravity demanded he fall out of bounds, and scooted 13 yards for a touchdown.
The Cajuns finished with 528 total yards, 288 of which came on the ground.
“When everybody’s doing their job, we’re a pretty hard team to stop,” McGuire said. “We came out with intensity and a sense of urgency. We wanted to win this football game.”