LEXINGTON, Ky. – The issue lingered from the spring, over the summer and throughout preseason camp for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Who would start at quarterback for the Cajuns in their first game since three-year starter Terrance Broadway ended his Cajun career?
It was answered, as expected, only when redshirt junior Brooks Haack took the field for the UL football team’s opening drive in its 2015 season-opener Saturday night at Kentucky.
The new question was posed within minutes after backup Jalen Nixon helped to rally UL from 33-10 down late in the third quarter and tie the game at 33-33, only to have the Wildcats’ prevail 40-33 behind Mikel Horton’s last-minute 12-yard touchdown run.
So will Haack and Nixon both play now?
“It’s gonna be interesting, you know,” Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said, “because they both did good things.
“They both moved the ball. We did put the ball in the end zone more with Jalen. But … Brooks didn’t get a lot of help. He had some of his teammates who dropped some balls.
“We need to have a good week of practice,” Hudspeth added. “We need to evaluate the film and look at the production and try to make a decision based on that.”
Haack finished 22-of-37 for 194 yards with two interceptions, one stemming from a desperate toss on the game’s final play.
The Texan scored himself on a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that came with the Cajuns down 21-0 at the time, and he also led a drive ending with a Stevie Artigue field goal that made it 27-10 Kentucky with just more than six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The run-oriented Nixon took over from there and directed three scoring drives, two of them ending with Torrey Pierce TD runs – 56 yards late in the third quarter, 26 yards early in the fourth – and the other ending with his own 23-yard TD run with 7:36 left.
Nixon also made both of UL’s two-point conversions attempts Saturday work, one of them being a pass to running back Elijah McGuire and the other a well-designed handoff to McGuire that followed a fake throw.
The Carencro High product finished 4-of-4 for 38 yards and no interceptions, and he produced another 37 rushing yards on five carries
“I thought both quarterbacks did some nice things,” Hudspeth said.
“I didn’t think Brooks (Haack) got as much help as he probably should’ve with the wideouts. … We had some drops.
“I thought he (Haack) threw some nice balls, and he didn’t get a whole lot of help. And I thought Jalen (Nixon) came in, sparked us there, put the ball in the end zone. They both, I think, played solid games.”
Asked about the key to the difference in rhythm for UL’s offense when each quarterback was running things, Hudspeth said Nixon “made a couple of nice checks.”
“A couple of the runs, they were just handoffs. But he did check the play, get ’em in the right play versus the pressure,” the Cajun coach said. “Then he sparked us with some quarterback runs, and continued to move the chains.
“It was sort of like a pitcher. We had been throwing a certain pitch the whole game, then we came with a changeup and threw the curve ball and it paid off for us there in the second half.”
Once Kentucky retook its lead, only 50 seconds remained.
Rather than stick with Nixon, Hudspeth turned back to the strong-throwing Haack.
“It was (a tough call),” Hudspeth said when asked, “but just for the two-minute offense that’s sort of Brooks’ deal. So that was our decision there.
“If we hadn’t got that last ball batted down, we probably would have got it to the 50 and had a chance to throw a legitimate Hail Mary. But it got batted down, and we weren’t quite in range.”
With UL unable to put one more in the end zone in the final minute, it lost a season opener on the road to a Power 5 program for the ninth time in nine tries since 2002 – a list that includes No. 23 Texas A&M in 2002, South Carolina in 2002 and 2007, No. 2 Texas in 2005, No. 8 LSU in 2006, No. 23 Georgia in 2010, No. 9 Oklahoma State in 2011 and Arkansas in 2013.
“I really thought once we scored back-to-back touchdowns (and) made both two-point conversions that we thought we (were) fixin’ to win the football game,” Hudspeth said. “I did not see us losing that game.”
Give them credit; they pulled it out.
“We’re pretty hurt,” he added while standing in a room close to the visitor’s locker room at Commonwealth Stadium. “We’re stinging in there right now that we didn’t win this game.”