Building Off The Ragin’ Cajuns Breakout Win
By Dan McDonald, McD Media
For Sports Radio ESPN 1420
A lot of things went right for UL’s football team on Saturday, and each of those positives contributed to what eventually became a 49-27 win over Texas State in its Sun Belt Conference opener.
But with apologies to Elijah McGuire, Jamal Robinson, Al Riles, Jeryl Brazil and virtually everyone on the Ragin’ Cajun defense, Saturday night was Jalen Nixon’s game.
The questions over who would emerge as the Cajuns’ starting quarterback were answered, at least for the foreseeable future, as Nixon put on a performance against the Bobcats that was as solid as any the Cajuns have had over the past four nine-win and bowl-winning seasons.
The junior’s numbers were impressive enough -- 22-of-29 passing for 238 yards and three touchdown, along with 45 rush yards on only seven carries and an 18-yard touchdown run that gave UL a 35-14 lead late in the third quarter.
More than the numbers, though, it was the way that Nixon guided the Cajun offense that was even more impressive. The only negative-yardage play UL had the entire game was a kneel-down in the final 30 seconds, and the Cajuns converted 9-of-15 third downs including five out of six in the second half.
And when the game was on the line, after the Bobcats had taken a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, the UL offense outgained Texas State by a stunning 319-13 margin over each team’s next eight possessions.
“Jalen had a stellar performance tonight,” said Cajun coach Mark Hudspeth not long after his team snapped a two-game loss streak and moved to 1-0 in Sun Belt play. “Look at his passing, 22 of 29 is just sensational. He made great decisions, and he looked in control of the game the entire night.”
Nixon made his first start one week earlier in the Cajuns’ disappointing loss at La. Tech, but Hudsepth intimated all week that Nixon would again get the nod in the battle with fellow junior Brooks Haack if a shoulder injury didn’t become an issue.
Hudspeth probably looked back at how effectively Terrance Broadway controlled the action in the Cajuns’ easy wins over the Bobcats during the past two seasons. Nixon comes closest to matching Broadway’s skill set with his ability to be a factor in the option game. The question all along has been if the Carencro product could produce as a thrower on a consistent basis.
Nixon threw for three touchdowns, one on a jet sweep to Al Riles and the other two to Jamal Robinson, one of which was a highlight-reel catch by the senior in the end zone that energized the entire squad after TSU hung with the Cajuns through the first quarter and a half.
“He did a nice job with the short balls,” Hudspeth said, “and he threw some strikes, too. He had a strike to Jamal (Robinson) that was a bullet and right on the money, and he dropped one in to him really nicely. He was very accurate on deep balls and short balls.”
During one streak, when the game was still in doubt, Nixon ht on 10-of-11 passes. Meanwhile, Texas State veteran quarterback Tyler Young found himself mired in a streak of 12 straight incompletions.
In fact, shortly after Jones had a solid 31-yard run to provide that 14-7 lead, he had a three-yard completion with nine minutes left in the second quarter to start the Bobcats’ next drive. His next completion came with 11 minutes left in the game ... meaning the UL defense held him without a completion for two minutes short of two full quarters.
“They have a tough scheme to defend,” Hudspeth said. “What hurts you most what they do is play action, and they burned us once on that in the first half. But our guys locked them down good after that. Our guys on the perimeter were up there helping to stop the run and they did a good job of that. They (Texas State) had been able to run it effectively before tonight.”
TSU entered the game second in the Sun Belt offensively, but through three quarters UL held a huge468-209 total yardage advantage and had 24 first downs to the Bobcats’ 10.
McGuire had a career-high 28 carries and rushed for 170 yards and a third-quarter touchdown, part of a rush attack that compiled 288 ground yards. And unlike some of his other 100-yard games that included one breakaway play, McGuire didn’t have a carry over 20 yards. In fact, UL as a team had only one play go for more than 21 yards, that being the 31-yard touchdown strike to Robinson.
“When we can throw it effectively, that takes the pressure off the run game,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve been pretty much one-dimensional before tonight. We had a good game plan and put points on the board, and more than anything else we played with better tempo.”
The Cajuns also did things on special teams and controlled that part of the game, with the exception of allowing Brandon Smith to return a kickoff for a touchdown late in the third quarter. But UL quickly got the equalizer, as Brazil showed his NCAA 100-meter finals speed on a 100-yard scoring return on the ensuing kickoff.
“This was a great shot in the arm at the right time,” said Hudspeth, whose team gets two extra days to prepare for the Tuesday, Oct. 20, next outing at Arkansas State. “The last two games were really disappointing, but I thought we were physical and we looked like ourselves more tonight than we had the last two weeks.”