LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth is having his cake and eating it, too.
After starter-turned-backup Brooks Haack sparked a second-half rally in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ come-from-behind victory against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, Hudspeth made the decision to let the Cajuns quarterback position play out on a game-by-game, play-by-play basis.
Just don’t ask him about specifics. He does not know precisely how this is going to work and, if everything goes to plan, he won’t ever really know because it’ll be a dynamic situation.
“You’ve got a quarterback that’s capable of rushing for 200 yards against one of the better teams in the conference in Jalen Nixon,” Hudspeth said. “Then you’ve got another quarterback that’s capable of throwing the ball very effectively. Moving forward, we’re going to play both of them.
“We don’t know which one is going to start yet, don’t know which one is going to play the most. We’ll probably end up playing the one that’s most effective. ... They both have tools that can help our team, and right now we need all the tools we can get.”
The quarterback position has been the center of a drama that has dragged on since the final game of the 2014 season, when Terrance Broadway won New Orleans Bowl MVP honors in his final game with the Cajuns.
Since then, the Cajuns have hemmed and hawed between Haack and Nixon, with redshirt freshman Jordan Davis briefly entering the discussion during competition in the spring and preseason camp.
Haack started the first three games as the Cajuns went 1-2. Nixon has started the past four, during which the Cajuns went 2-2 — though Saturday’s win came in large part thanks to Haack’s second-half heroics.
The Cajuns offense has been at times potent, at times hapless under both quarterbacks. The inconsistency at the position has hurt the Cajuns, but Hudspeth is hoping to take advantage of the better side of the streaky play by playing to their strengths and exploiting the defense’s weakness.
In theory, a two-quarterback system like the one the Cajuns are about to deploy — with one quarterback specializing in the pass game and the other in the zone-read game — should give defensive coordinators fits, because it makes it harder to eliminate one phase of the game.
The Cajuns, in theory, could treat their quarterbacks like some coaches treat running backs, riding the hot hand.
“Having the hot hand, that’s not a bad thing,” Hudspeth said. “Now we’re not limiting ourselves because we know we’ve got two quarterbacks. ... Now we’re going to accept, it is what it is. We’ve got two good ones, and we’re going to let it roll and see who can help our team the most.”
Or they could approach each game situationally, playing Haack against teams that struggle in pass coverage and Nixon against those that have a hard time defending a mobile quarterback. The Cajuns used the latter in the season opener against Kentucky, when Nixon’s running ability turned the tide in a near upset.
Hudspeth could deke opposing coaches by playing Nixon in a running situation, only to have him pass over the top, or vice versa with Haack, who’s more mobile than he’s sometimes given credit for, as he showed on a touchdown run against ULM.
The options, in theory, are endless.
“You always want to have one quarterback, a guy that’s ‘The Guy,’ ” Hudspeth said. “But having two really good ones is not all bad, too. This is just the cards that we’ve been dealt. We’ve got two really good quarterbacks that have two different really talented skill sets.”
But for all the theoretical benefits of running a dual-quarterback system, they’ve also rarely succeeded at the college level. Outside of a few spurts here and there, it didn’t really work when the Cajuns tried to do it earlier this season.
By committing to playing the one who’s most effective, the Cajuns could put themselves in a situation where a player’s trying to do too much or play too cautiously, rather than going out there with the confidence that they’ll be in the game no matter what.
Hudspeth is hoping to alleviate that pressure by arming them with the knowledge that both are going to play, no matter what.
It’s a risky move, but for a 3-4 team, a little risk is sometimes necessary — and it could deliver a big reward.
“Hopefully this will be a good move for us,” Hudspeth said. “Way too early to speculate on who’s going to get the first snap or how many snaps they’re going to get. I’m just going to tell both to be loose, be ready and to help our team when they’re called upon.”