Cajuns are final tune-up for U football

Brett Angel

At this point in a normal 11-game collegiate football schedule, Minnesota would be gearing up for its first real test of the season against a Big Ten opponent.

But with an extra nonconference game on the calendar for the second year in a row, the Gophers (3-0) instead find themselves preparing for Louisiana-Lafayette in a match-up more accurately described as a pop quiz.

The average margin of victory in Minnesota’s first three nonconference games of the season was 34 points. It’s the first time in 87 years the Gophers have scored at least 40 points in each of their first three contests and there is no reason to believe the streak will end Saturday.

The Cajuns (0-3) sound like something more readily found on a Louisiana dinner menu than a Big Ten team’s football schedule. After scoring just 24 points combined in three losses, they will likely be reduced to Gophers fodder Saturday night at the Metrodome.

Minnesota cracked the top 25 before the beginning of conference play for the first time since 1969.

But after a performance against Ohio University last week that coach Glen Mason called a step back, the Gophers view Saturday’s game as one final chance to study up for Big Ten play.

“That’s what the preseason is for,” quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “We’re a little anxious to get into conference play, but you still have to play the games on Saturday.”

Despite winning 42-20 last week in their first road game of 2003, Mason called the Gophers’ play “average.” He was especially upset with his team’s lack of energy, its perimeter blocking on offense and the number of missed tackles on defense.

Mason said the team has worked hard in practice this week to correct the mistakes, but admitted the Gophers had a great week of practice before the Ohio game that did not carry over to game day.

“When I don’t think things are going as well as I’d like, we go back to basics,” Mason said. “Regardless of who we are going to play, we have to be more intense.”

Minnesota defensive tackle Darrell Reid dismissed the possibility that the Gophers viewed Saturday’s game versus the Cajuns solely as preparation for the Big Ten opener against Penn State on Sept. 27.

“Every team presents different problems. They’re not going to be a ball club that we can just walk over,” Reid said, who thinks Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Jerry Babb will be the best Minnesota has seen so far this year.

That’s high praise for a guy who finished last week’s game 5-for-22 for a total of 57 yards passing – and also in a losing effort to a Houston team that lost to Michigan by 47 points Sept. 6.

It’s doubtful Minnesota will have any problem getting a win Saturday and making the trip to Happy Valley with a 4-0 record. A more realistic concern is that another victory against a severely overmatched opponent could mask some of the Gophers’ biggest weaknesses.

“That’s the challenge of coaching,” defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said. “It’s our responsibility to get the kids ready to play.”

Ready or not, Minnesota probably will not have much trouble beating the Cajuns.

But the real exam is still a week away.

Lloyd might see double duty

While Mason said he has yet to make a decision about who will handle punting duties for Minnesota this weekend, look for Rhys Lloyd to double as both the starting place-kicker and punter.

“I think Lloyd has spaced himself ahead of everybody else,” Mason said.

In three games this year, Mason has used three different punters: Ben Utecht against Tulsa, Mark Rivers against Troy State and Lloyd last week in Ohio.