LAFAYETTE — Sometimes the spark can come from an unexpected source.
When 6-foot-4, 300-pound Louisiana-Lafayette defensive tackle Blain Winston described the physical plays that can get a team fired up midgame, those sparks are often the product of a forceful tackle made by a defender.
The result is often a chain reaction that causes players on the sideline to get an extra bounce in their steps for a while.
Enter 5-foot-9, 175-pound freshman Gary Haynes.
His spark came on a sideline at the end of a punt return Saturday against Texas State ... when a would-be tackler was sent sprawling as Haynes remained upright. It was one of the sparks that got the Cajuns going in their Sun Belt opening 49-27 win.
“The offensive guys can set the tone, too, by playing physical,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “That’s what we have done in the past.”
Hudspeth was glad to see that blast from the past as part of a larger package that included junior receiver Al Riles breaking a handful of tackles while he gained yards after the catch. It is not a feature Hudspeth is counting on seeing regularly from Haynes.
“I don’t know if (Haynes) is always going to be quite that physical like he was on the sideline,” Hudspeth said. “I wouldn’t look for that to be a normal everyday thing. But he does have a lot of shake and a lot of make-you-miss. He’s one of those guys who come along every so often that has dynamic feet.”
Riles’ role in getting the defense and his peers on the offensive side enthused was more of a steady dose of energy. It came in the form of getting a few extra yards here and there or turning a jet sweep into a 22-yard touchdown on a play where the sideline and the mix of Cajuns and Bobcats in the vicinity left Riles little room to operate as he forged a path to the end zone.
It was a spark with a score at the end,
“That’s a spark. ... Somebody needs to light the fire and make the big play,” Winston said. “With (the receivers) doing that, it encourages us to go out there (on defense) and be physical and get them the ball so they can keep doing that.”
Receiver Jamal Robinson’s physicality came in more subtle ways when the Bobcats often lined up in press coverage and put Preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year David Mims II on the Cajuns wideout. Robinson ran through contact and created enough space to catch a pair of touchdowns, whether he had both hands at his disposal or not.
The whole equation gave Hudspeth a formula that led to 49 points and a defense that allowed 13 points in the second half.
“All of our offensive guys brought a little bit,” Hudspeth said. “Gary Haynes had the big hit on the sideline when he returned the punt. That was great to see. That is the kind of football that we have been used to playing offensively: playing very tough, playing physical and getting the ball to a bunch of different playmakers.
“When you have so many guys making a contribution, that is when your offense can really click.”