LAFAYETTE — Given all the early fireworks, plot twists and lead swapping, the focus on Jordan Davis’ debut as Louisiana-Lafayette’s starting quarterback wasn’t as intense as expected.
But the contributions of the Ragin’ Cajuns junior in Saturday's wild, 51-48, season-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana shouldn't be downplayed, coach Mark Hudspeth said.
“For his first day on the job, he showed a lot,” Hudspeth said not long after the Cajuns defense foiled the Lions’ potential game-winning two-point try in the final minute. “He threw some really good balls and showed some flashes of some really nice abilities.”
The Spring, Texas, product waited his turn for two years. That included having last year's starting job jerked out from under him when LSU graduate transfer Anthony Jennings arrived late last summer. He played only sparingly as a sophomore, not even as much as Wildcat specialist Dion Ray, and at times the rustiness showed Saturday.
“Yeah, there was some nervousness,” Davis said. “In the first game, you’re always going to have those kind of nicks and bumps, where you’re not as smooth as you want. There were plays that we missed out there.”
Davis’ numbers were not eye-popping. He completed just over 50 percent of his throws (12 of 23) for 162 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to fellow Houston metro area product Ryheem Malone early in the second quarter that gave UL-Lafayette a 28-21 lead.
Although a game that featured 63 points in the first 20 minutes was tied three times after that, the Cajuns never trailed again, and part of the credit goes to Davis for leading an offense that had no turnovers and only two penalties.
Davis’ feet provided a pivotal play midway through the second quarter when he faked out the Lions defense (and most of the Cajun Field crowd) on a read option with running back Elijah Mitchell and ran most of a 38-yard burst while most were still watching the freshman. That took the ball to the SLU 1, and Ray scored on a Wildcat burst a play later for a 35-28 lead.
In all, Davis ran for 48 yards despite a 20-yard sack late in the first quarter, one that also drew an ill-advised intentional grounding penalty that set up a short punt from the end zone, a big return from SLU’s Max Lyons to the UL-Lafayette 2-yard line and Eugene Bethea’s score two plays later.
That was one of the mistakes Hudspeth pointed out while adding that Saturday’s game was the first time Davis had seen “live” contact since spring practice, and even that contact was limited.
“I think he got his feet wet tonight,” Hudspeth said. “He threw a couple of balls in the dirt that were sort of gimmes, ones that we really needed — especially to keep the sticks moving and get us some third-and-shorts. We can’t take those for granted, because we’ve got to improve on those easy throws. He got baptized a little bit while he was under fire, and hopefully we’ll see improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.”
That lengthy sack was the only one the Cajuns blockers allowed. And even though UL-Lafayette was out-rushed 343-201 and out-passed 171-162, Davis was still high on his teammates’ performance in new offensive coordinator Will Hall’s retooled attack.
The Cajuns averaged 5.6 yards per rush, with redshirt freshman Trey Ragas going for 61 yards (including a 54-yard score) before leaving in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. Mitchell had 56 rushing yards and a score in his college debut, and Jordan Wright had 27 yards and a touchdown.
Malone had four catches along with his score; all four of the Cajuns’ starting receivers had at least one catch. The total numbers are a little skewed because UL-Lafayette only ran 59 plays (to SLU's 79), mostly thanks to Raymond Calais’ 97- and 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“It was great to see that we’ve got a lot of tools and that I have a lot of tools personally,” Davis said. “A lot of receivers made plays, and they can make more plays. I can make more plays. As an offense, we feel like we can do much better, and we’re excited for the rest of this season and where we’re going.”