LAFAYETTE — Way back when the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s football team learned it would be without senior wide receiver Jamal Robinson for the remainder of the regular season, coach Mark Hudspeth made a prophetic statement.
“There are some guys that have the speed that Jamal had. There are some guys that have the size Jamal had,” Hudspeth said. “We just don’t necessarily have guys that have everything Jamal had combined. That was sort of the difference there, and that’s why it’s going to probably have to be by committee instead of one person.”
Turns out, Hudspeth was right. The Cajuns have seen healthy contributions from just about every member of their receiving corps lately.
The key to the whole group might be senior James Butler, who had been almost invisible in the Cajuns offense before the South Alabama game. Through the first seven games Butler had just 11 catches on the season for 119 yards. But he’s been the Cajuns’ top weapon as of late.
In the past three weeks, Butler has more than doubled his receptions total (11 to 24) and has more than tripled his yardage total (119 to 366) while leading the Cajuns in receiving yards in each of the last four games.
What’s behind the surge in production?
“Me trying to fill in Jamal’s role, not necessarily to be him but to be the best receiver I can be,” Butler said. “Me being thrust into the No. 1 role, trying to make plays, trying to put the team in position to win.”
While Butler has done a fine job filling in Robinson’s shoes as the Cajuns clear-cut No. 1 receiver, the Cajuns needed their young receivers to improve their collective play as well, and the young bucks have answered the bell.
It’s almost as if they’re taking turns having a big day on Saturdays. And while none may be the complete package yet, each has used their great attribute to impact the game.
Three weeks ago, sophomore Devin Scott made a splash with a key 45-yard reception to convert a third and long and set up a score against South Alabama. Speed, check.
Two weeks ago, sophomore Jared Johnson hauled in a pair of touchdown passes — both of which came on jump ball fades in the red zone. Size, check.
Last week, true freshman Gabe Fuselier had his best game as a collegian, with two clutch catches for 48 yards. On one of those catches, he showed a great burst of speed to get around the edge, and then even better balance to stay in bounds as he hugged the sideline for a 36-yard touchdown. Play-making ability, check.
Three different players, none the standout player Robinson was alone but together enough to make up for Robinson’s production. That’s not even including sophomore junior-college transfer C.J. Bates, who might be the closest of all to matching Robinson’s skillset.
“Those young receivers are going to be talented,” Hudspeth said. “They’re just growing up right now.”
That is especially true for Fuselier, who is one of just four freshmen to line up for the Cajuns this season. Hudspeth said he and his staff have stuck with Fuselier throughout the season as he went through the ups and downs of someone new to the college game.
“All those guys got the opportunity to show what they could do, and they’ve done a great job with it,” Butler said. “They’re young, so they’re going to continue to get better. They have so much potential.”
It was all about trusting the staff’s evaluations, Hudspeth said.
“Sometimes when kids don’t just start off really hot, sometimes you get a little wary and wonder whether you made the right decision (to sign him),” Hudspeth said. “After this past Saturday, when you saw him turn on the jets down that sideline and make the nice catch on the crossing route, that confirmed that that kid is going to be an exciting player in the future for us.
“We wanted to recruit speed, and that’s what he brought to the table.”