Ever since he became head coach, Mark Hudspeth has had a core group of players that have guided the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns to four straight New Orleans Bowl wins. Most of the leaders have come from the quarterback position, with either Blaine Gautier or Terrance Broadway.
But heading into the 2015 season, that security blanket at quarterback is gone, with Hudspeth still choosing between either junior dropback passer Brooks Haack, or sophomore scrambler Jalen Nixon. ULL does have consistency at the running back position, though, with returning junior Elijah McGuire, who could be the most explosive player in the Sun Belt Conference this season.
McGuire, a 5-foot-8, 208-pound runner with great speed and a good deal of power, comes into the upcoming season with high expectations. After playing with fellow running backs Alonzo Harris and Effrem Reed for the last couple of seasons, Elijah will now take up most – if not all – of the major snaps in the Cajuns’ offense this coming season. And if he remains consistent with the numbers he put up last year, McGuire may get consideration for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the best running back in the nation.
In 2014, McGuire 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns, the fourth-best yardage by a back in school history. His 265-yard performance against Arkansas State on Oct. 21 on a Tuesday night ESPN2 game was the 12th-best total by a running back in 2014, and that started a string where McGuire had scored touchdowns in nine straight games.
He had 22 plays of over 20 yards last season, with seven of them going for 40 yards or more. McGuire also is a great receiver, as he led ULL last season with 45 catches and had 1,848 all-purpose yards, which led the Sun Belt Conference.
With Hudspeth still trying to find which way his offense will operate – either by having a typical dropback passer with Haack or a zone-read type with Nixon (or both with redshirt freshman Jordan Davis) – at least McGuire will be ready to be either a workhorse running back or a big-play kind of back. The other thing Hud is searching for is a second productive running back to give McGuire some rest. Reed returns to the running back corps, while Torrey Pierce, Montrel Carter and Darius Hoggins are also expect to get some snaps.
McGuire already has the spotlight on him to start the 2015 season by being named the Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. That means unless either Haack or Nixon can not only win the job, but can run the offense well in the early part of the season, expect opposing defenses to jam the line and try to keep McGuire in front of them and prevent him from getting off a big play.
The Cajuns will open the season at Kentucky on Sept. 5, an opponent that ULL expects to be an underdog against, especially since ULL has never beaten an SEC opponent in its history. But if McGuire can catch some early season magic and if the defense can keep the Wildcat offense from exploding, there is a slight chance that McGuire could break a big play to lead the Cajuns to a big win to open the season.