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Football: Hudspeth – Cajun offense is “stuck in the mud’

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 2, 2015

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – When starting quarterback Anthony Jennings was intercepted for the second time Saturday night, and for the fourth time in a game-and-a-half, UL coach Mark Hudspeth decided he had seen plenty.

Hudspeth benched graduate-transfer Jennings in favor of backup Jalen Nixon for UL’s final series in the first half, then stuck with Nixon until the senior injured an ankle in overtime of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ eventual 37-31 double-OT Sun Belt Conference loss to New Mexico State here.

“Wouldn’t have brought him (back at all) if Jalen hadn’t gotten injured,” Hudspeth said when asked if he debated whether or not to have Jennings open the second half.

“At that point, enough was enough in that game. Enough was enough. We’re playing too good just to do those things.”

Hudspeth’s frustration with Jennings’ turnover issues was obvious as he spoke just minutes after lost in overtime for a second straight Saturday.

One week earlier, the transfer from LSU – dealing then with protection issues – was picked twice and also lost a fumble when he was hit from behind in a 41-39 quadruple-overtime loss at Tulane.

This time, with multiple offensive linemen who were injured or out against Tulane providing him much more time at NMSU, Jennings’ second interception resulted in a pick-6 that put the Aggies up 21-10 late in the opening half.

The pass was forced over the middle, and that’s when Hudspeth – whose Cajuns got just six carries Saturday out of injured running back Elijah McGuire – pulled the plug.

“If we can’t learn to (not) turn the ball over we’re not going to be any better than we are right now,” he said of his 2-3 team, which is now idle until playing host to Appalachian State in an ESPN2-televised game on Oct. 12.

“We can’t ask any more of our defense. … You can’t ask any more of what they’re doing. And we can’t get 3 yards? We can’t convert a first down driving deep. Then we’re just throwing the ball; just poor decisions.

“The turnovers is just not acceptable,” Hudspeth said. “We’re playing too good in every other phase, and it’s disappointing.”

Jennings wasn’t picked in his first two games as a Cajun.

But he now has been intercepted six times in his last three games – twice in each game, two of them losses.

“Most of the time the team that turns the ball over less wins the game,” said Cajuns receiver Keenan Barnes, whose touchdown catch at NMSU gave him four TDs in five games.

“That probably was a factor (Saturday),” Barnes added with reference to the turnovers. “It just starts with us. We shot ourselves in the foot for the second week in a row.”

The Cajuns’ head coach could not agree more, even tough with a Simeon Thomas interception and a Trey Granier interception of Tyler Rogers the turnover battle actually came out even Saturday.

“Turnovers is the key,” Hudspeth said, “and until we figure that out we’re not gonna get any better.

“But we’re gonna figure it out, though. If it takes playing our fourth-team quarterback, we’re gonna take care of the ball. Because our defense is playing too good.”

UL actually did run its fourth-team QB, redshirt freshman Dion Ray, on one play Saturday.

He gained one yard.

Hudspeth said he attributed Jennings’ issues Saturday to “just poor decisions, and not understanding the consequences, and us doing a poor job in preparing him, obviously.

“So we’re gonna have to go back and evaluate what we’re doing offensively,” the Cajuns coach said, “because what we’re doing right now is stuck in the mud.”

Jennings finished 12-of-22 for 143 yards, one touchdown and the two picks. Sixty-three of those yards on a six-inch jet sweep flip pass to slot receiver Al Riles.

Nixon was 8-of-13 for 84 yards with no interceptions and no TDs.

The Carencro High product directed three scoring drives, two of which ended with field goals, and completed a two-point conversion pass to Jared Johnson before getting hurt.

After Nixon got hurt on an 11-yard run during UL’s first OT possession, Jennings entered and the Cajuns scored when running back Darius Hoggins recovered his own fumble in the end zone.

UL faced 1-and-10 from the NMSU 12 on its second overtime possession, and got to the 6, but couldn’t punch it in from there and had to settle for a Stevie Artigue field goal attempt that missed after hitting the left upright.

“We’ve got to be able to get these third down-and-shorts when we get the ball down right there when we have a chance to score,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got to put the ball in the end zone right there if we want to win games.

“Counting on short field goals in overtime, especially when you’re on the 5-, 6-yard line? That’s not gonna win games for you.”

When he was asked what he plans to do at quarterback when Appalachian State visits, Hudspeth – whose club this week will be idle on a Saturday for the first time this season – did not have an answer right away.

Much might depend on Nixon’s status. It could end up being Jennings. UL’s No. 3 QB, Jordan Davis, couldn’t win the starting job coming out of spring practice and has yet to play this season. Ray, meanwhile, waits in the wings.

“Luckily,” Hudspeth said, “we’ve got a long week to evaluate everything, and to get some guys healthy.”