Luke Johnson: Cajuns’ toughness keeps them afloat; winning record just a win away _lowres

Advocate Photo by Brad Kemp -- Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire gets blocks from teammates Octravian Anderson (68) and Donovan Williams (77) on Georgia State defensive end Shawayne Lawrence (85) during their game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth is hoping to channel his inner Ricky Bobby to inject some vitality to what has been a moribund offense in the last few weeks.

Simply put, he wants the Cajuns to go fast.

“We want to pick up our tempo,” Hudspeth said. “The tempo, to me, has not been what it really needs to be. We sort of went from being a tempo team to a team that’s trying to just take too long, trying to be too perfect on every play.

“When you go tempo, you eliminate teams from being able to show you so many different defenses. We want to play much faster.”

The idea is to force the offense to get into a rhythm while also limiting the defense’s ability to make presnap adjustments at the line of scrimmage, something that has at times made life difficult for the Cajuns inexperienced players at center and quarterback, who are responsible for making calls based on those adjustments.

Hudspeth isn’t necessarily concerned about reaching a specific target number for offensive plays per game. That number is arbitrary, because it also depends on the opponent and how long they hold the ball.

What Hudspeth would like to see is an offense that doesn’t give the defense time to react. Tempo has been a major focus for the offense this week in practice.

“Once we get in there, everything happens a little faster, a little quicker,” said quarterback Brooks Haack. “I think we know that, so we’re trying to be precise but we’re thinking too much about what our assignment is rather than everything else. When we get down there, I’m going to start taking it upon myself to get everybody more locked in, get everybody on the right page and make sure everybody’s set.

“Right now we’re trying to go really, really fast. Try to line up and run as many plays as possible.”

At this point, something needed to change on the offensive end. The good news is the Cajuns are 2-1 over their last three games. The bad news is those games rank as the most punchless collective offensive effort of Hudspeth’s four-plus year tenure.

In that span, the Cajuns have averaged just 293.7 total yards per game. The only time the Cajuns averaged less over a three-game span in Hudspeth’s tenure came in the coach’s first three games with the Cajuns.

They’ve also scored just 26 points per game over that stretch, and when considering the fact that the Cajuns defense and special teams has accounted for two touchdowns, the offense has only accounted for 21 points per game.

Making matters more concerning, each of those efforts came against teams giving up more than 33 points per game this season.

“That’s just not enough in college football,” Hudspeth said. “It’s just not. We’ve averaged almost 35 points per game the last four years. If we were even averaging 30 a game or 29 a game, we probably would be sitting here 6-4 or (7-3) and it’d be a totally different story.

“But averaging (21) points a game, you’re not going to beat a lot of people. People score points these days. (Twenty-one) points, you’re not going to get many doing that.”

The problems have been numerous for the Cajuns on the offensive side of the ball this season.

Inexperience at key positions has played a large role, especially when it comes to the tempo they want to establish. They’ve struggled to adjust without all-league performer Mykhael Quave after he was lost for the season with a torn rotator cuff, and the offense has had difficulty finding continuity while going back and forth between Haack and Jalen Nixon at quarterback.

But the No. 1 problem, especially lately, has been in the running game. Typically the butter to the Cajuns’ offensive bread, the ground attack has been noticeably absent in recent games.

In their last three games, the Cajuns have managed just 340 rushing yards, the worst three-game total by a Cajuns team since the last three games of the 2011 season. They were held to just 43 rushing yards last week against a South Alabama team that had been gashed for 722 yards in its previous three weeks. It was the worst single-game rushing total of Hudspeth’s tenure.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball,” said right guard Donovan Williams. “That’s kind of the signature of our offense. We’ve got to be able to do that every game, regardless of who they put out there, what defense they run.”

The Cajuns have three games remaining for sure.

They could play in a fourth, but likely won’t unless they can find a way to be more productive on offense in the final weeks of the season.

Saturday, they will see if speed cures what ails them.