Hudspeth: UL's Jackson always doing 'the right things'
He’s been called the Swiss Army knife of UL’s receivers room.
Jarrod Jackson isn’t always utilized, isn’t always the first choice to slice through opposing defenses.
But he has the tools to do it in a variety of ways, and — as evidenced in last Saturday 56-50 double-overtime loss to UL Monroe — can be counted on for a fix in a pinch.
“He’s been sort of our utility guy, because he’s very cerebral and he understands our schemes,” UL coach Mark Hudspeth said. “He knows all the positions, and he’s just such a good kid.”
So with starting slot receiver Ryheem Malone hurting with a shoulder injury, and wideout Keenan Barnes not 100 percent either because of a sore knee, Jackson figured he get his shot against ULM.
When he did, he ran with it.
The third-year sophomore from East St. John High didn’t just have his first career catch last Saturday.
He had a career game.
Jackson finished with a team high-tying seven receptions for a team-high 113 yards and one touchdown, a 12-yarder from Andre Nunez late in the fourth quarter that was part of a 21-point Cajun comeback in the final period of regulation that forced overtime.
Related:Nunez delivers, but UL falls to UL Monroe
“I was really proud for him, that the ball found him and he was able to contribute,” Hudspeth said, “because of what he brings to our team, and that is a kid that is such a quality person (with) a great attitude.”
During his first preseason camp with the Cajuns, in 2015, Jackson endured a major setback.
“He was really ahead of the rest of (other young Cajuns receivers) at that point,” Hudspeth said, “and he blew his knee out.”
Anterior cruciate ligament, torn.
Freshman season, lost.
“(Last year) wasn’t quite the same," Hudspeth said. “Just didn’t bounce back from it.
“This spring, though, he started to turn the page, turn the corner, getting his quickness back, strength back in that knee.”
Jackson, who had 68 receptions for 1,624 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior in high school, appeared in six games on special teams and as a reserve receiver with no catches last year.
But he had four grabs for 50 yards and a TD in UL’s 2017 spring game, then went into this year’s preseason camp regarded as a top reserve behind SMU-transfer slot man Malone and returning receivers Bradley, Michael Jacquet and Ja’Marcus Bradley.
Related:Malone, WR corps shine in spring game
He didn’t get extensive playing time, though, until Saturday, when Malone fielded punts but wasn’t part of the game plan offensively because his sore shoulder, sustained one week earlier in a 45-21 loss at Texas A&M, kept him from fully practicing during the preceding week.
Jackson wasn’t initially sure where he’d play the most Saturday, but he sensed he’d probably play a lot.
“They told me, ‘Just be ready for inside and outside,’” he said.
As it turned out, he worked mostly inside, effectively running seam routes from the slot.
“When his number was called,” Hudspeth said, “he was prepared — because he prepares like a starter.”
For each of the Cajuns’ receiver spots, in fact.
That’s one thing that helped Jackson on Saturday.
Related:How the Cajuns' comeback bid fell short in double OT
Perhaps another is that he was on the receiving end of throws from UL No. 2 quarterback Nunez, who in his first action as a Cajun played the final three quarters and all of overtime because Davis — also injured at Texas A&M — was struggling with a sore left knee.
Because both are backups, juco-transfer Nunez — who produced 287 passing yards and two touchdown throws — and Jackson typically spend a lot of practice time together.
“He’s with the 2s,” Nunez said, “and I’m with the 2s for the most part.
“When we go 1-on-1s, I’m really throwing to him all the time. So our connection is there. We know we’re on the same page, so it helps a lot.”
Whoever is at quarterback when the Cajuns play next is likely to have more opportunity to target Jackson, as Hudspeth said Saturday’s showing “will aid him getting more playing time.”
If it’s Nunez, who Hudspeth also said has earned more time, that could benefit Jackson.
More:UL backup QB Nunez may play more; Davis still starter
“We work together; we always are out after practice, before practice,” Jackson said. “Even during practice, me and him hook up.
“We have a good chemistry together, so that (Saturday’s success) is a testament to that. We both grind, we both work hard, so it paid off.”
Nunez’s first completion to Jackson was a dart that the Cajun receiver pulled in with only an extended left hand.
“That was a heckuva catch,” Hudspeth said.
A few days earlier, Jackson foreshadowed what was to come.
“I caught one like that on a cross route (the prior) Sunday in practice,” he said.
“Coach Munoz (Jorge Munoz, UL’s receivers coach), he said, ‘I think you could have got two on it.’ I said, ‘Coach, when I do it in a game, you’re gonna say, ‘Good job, big dawg.’ And that just happened.
“I practice catching with one hand all the time,” Jackson added, “because you never know when you’re gonna need just one hand.”
Related:Ragin' Cajuns add 10-year-old to the roster
That’s the attitude of someone Hudspeth calls “very unselfish,” a receiver who might not have super speed but who, the Cajun coach said, has “incredible hands” and is “very good at running his routes and creating separation.”
It’s another attribute, though, that perhaps is more important.
Jackson, Hudspeth said, “works hard and always does the right things.”
Much like that aforementioned knife.