Minnesota’s defense set a goal before Saturday’s football game against Louisiana-Lafayette: Hold the Cajuns to 99 yards rushing or less.
The Gophers (4-0) just about cut their aspiration in half in the 48-14 win. Minnesota plugged the Cajuns running attack thanks to improved tackling, controlling the line of scrimmage and an intensity that was missing Saturday at Ohio University.
All this was done minus linebacker and team-leader Ben West, who was held out by the coaching staff with a knee injury he suffered Sept. 13. West was about the only defender who earned praise for his performance last week with 12 tackles and a knee brace to show for his effort.
“We accomplished a lot of things that we talked about accomplishing,” junior defensive tackle Darrell Reid said. “We did a pretty good job up front, the whole defensive line. We had talked about how we needed to step up this week because Ben didn’t play today.”
Junior Brian Smith filled in solidly for West, finishing tied for a team-high six tackles.
Louisiana-Lafayette (0-4) had just one yard rushing at halftime and less than a yard per carry heading into the fourth quarter before Minnesota’s second-team defense allowed the Cajuns backs some breathing room.
By the end of the game, the Gophers allowed Louisiana-Lafayette just 50 yards rushing on 29 carries, and had a total of nine tackles for loss. Ohio’s triple-option offense accumulated 222 yards on the ground Saturday.
“I think (the defenders) played a lot better than they’ve been playing,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “It was a tough way to go for Louisiana-Lafayette to run the football.”
Missed tackles and a lack of intensity had been the sore spot defensively for the Gophers last week.
Mason commented on the team’s improvement in both areas following the game. He said with all the focus put on certain parts of his team’s performance, he would have been disappointed not to see some progress.
Safety Eli Ward, who picked off and errant pass after Reid hit Cajuns quarterback Jerry Babb, saw how his unit came through after a step back last weekend.
“(Mason) put a real premium on tackling this week,” Ward said. “We worked hard on it and did a lot more tackling drills, and it showed out there. We were fundamentally better. We wrapped up, and we got our heads across.”
Reid also recovered a fumble caused by fellow defensive tackle Dan Kwapinski when he knocked the ball away from Louisiana-Lafayette running back Travis Smothers early in the second quarter.
Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson imparted before the season that his team aimed for three turnovers per game. They haven’t achieved this objective yet.
As the Gophers turn their attention toward the Big Ten season and, more specifically, Penn State next Saturday, they know everything will be tougher and that they have to be solid in all aspects of the game.
The Lions rank second to last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and total offense and are without 2,000-yard rusher Larry Johnson. But traveling to Happy Valley is always a daunting task no matter what kind of team Penn State fields.
“There are obviously some things we can always work on,” Reid said. “We’re going to work hard in practice this week just like we have the past two weeks and get everything cleaned up going into the Big Ten season.”