Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team was already fighting an uphill battle in Tuesday’s first half at Arkansas State, and things got worse when senior wide receiver Jamal Robinson limped to the sideline with a foot injury.
Ragin’ CajunS coach Mark Hudspeth had plenty of concerns during and after his team’s 37-27 Sun Belt Conference road loss, but one of the biggest was Robinson’s health.
“The first thing I thought of was last year,” Hudspeth said. “It was like, here we go again.”
After a breakout 2013 season in which he had 54 catches for 862 yards and eight scores, the former Slidell star only played in four games last season. Robinson suffered a knee injury in the second game against Louisiana Tech and missed both the Ole Miss and Boise State games. He then had a foot injury on the first series two games later against Texas State and missed the rest of the season.
When he left Tuesday’s game, he was limping on that same right foot. But an MRI showed only a sprain, and he is expected back for next Saturday’s 4 p.m. homecoming contest against UL-Monroe.
“When we got word that it was the same foot, it was like, uh oh,” Hudspeth said. “Just knowing he’s going to be back was a big relief. If there was some good news from that game, that was it.”
Hudspeth said that Robinson, who is 34 yards from breaking into UL-Lafayette top five on career receiving yards, was not scheduled to practice Thursday and will be limited for a few days.
Two for four
Hudspeth said Thursday that one major goal for his team is to play solidly for four quarters and not get off to what has become a habitual slow start.
“Every game we’re playing a strong two quarters, and pretty poor for two quarters,” he said.
ASU drove for scores on three of its first four possessions and also returned an interception for a touchdown midway through the second quarter for a 27-0 lead, continuing the Cajuns’ first-half struggles on both offense and defense.
The Cajuns trailed Kentucky 24-7 at halftime before rallying for a 33-all fourth-quarter tie, were down 28-7 against Akron midway through the third quarter, trailed Louisiana Tech 29-7 at intermission and were down 34-7 late in the second period Tuesday. Even in the 49-27 home win over Texas State two weeks ago, UL-Lafayette and the Bobcats were tied 14-14 at halftime.
“We came out on the opening drive and I thought we marched the ball well,” Hudspeth said. “After that, there weren’t many more positives in the first half. How do we start faster, that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now.”
Freshman punter Steven Coutts had the best night of his career in the ASU loss. The Australian had a 51.2-yard average on six punts, with two over 60 yards. The Red Wolves only returned one for 12 yards.
“He just continues to impress,” Hudspeth said. “We have a weapon right there. We don’t want to have to utilize him, but he’s the biggest part of our punt team leading the conference.”
His most impressive kick came on his first attempt after a high snap. The 6-foot-4 Coutts made a leaping catch and then got off a “rugby-style” kick that eventually went for a season-high 64 yards.
For the season, Coutts ranked 17th nationally with a 45.0 average and trails only Georgia State’s Wil Lutz (45.2) in the Sun Belt. Nine of his 26 punts have been for 50 or more yards. As a team, the Cajuns are 10th nationally in net punting with a 41.59 average, allowing only 49 yards in returns through six games.
Two types of tackles
UL-Lafayette again struggled with one-on-one tackles against the Red Wolves, most notably in the first half when ASU went 76, 57 and 64 yards for scores on three of its first four possessions and added an 83-yard scoring drive midway through the second quarter.
“Tackling to me is two things,” Hudspeth said. “In a confined area, that can be taught, doing the fundamentals and wrapping up. Tackling in open space, that’s recruiting a lot of times, that’s your God-given quickness and ability to change direction. We have to put ourselves in better positions and do a better job of taking good angles in the open field.”
With the Tuesday game, UL-Lafayette will take Friday and Saturday off from practice before returning for its traditional Sunday evening workout ... Tuesday’s statistical milestones included running back Elijah McGuire becoming the first player in school history with 2,000 career rush yards (2,744) and 1,000 career receiving yards (1,133), after his career-high 134 receiving yards against ASU. ... Quarterback Jalen Nixon also became the second player in school history to record 200 rush yards and 200 pass yards in a game with his 201 rushing and 253 passing against ASU. Brian Mitchell had 271 rush yards and 205 passing yards in a 35-28 win over Colorado State in 1987 ... UL-Lafayette’s remaining six opponents have a combined 12-24 record, and only one (Appalachian State, 5-1 entering a Thursday night home game against Georgia Southern) has a winning record.