Football must regroup versus talented, confident Ragin’ Cajuns defense

by John R. Carter

Barely able to put a touchdown on the scoreboard in the season opener at Toledo, and still unsure which quarterback will take a lead role in the attack, Minnesota’s football team is in desperate need of a jump-start on offense.

Louisiana-Lafayette, a 1-10 team a year ago, would seem like the right cure for the Gophers sour attack. Minnesota is a heavy favorite for Saturday’s 1:30 game against the Cajuns at the Metrodome.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense gave up an average of 387 yards a game last season. But this year, things are different down south.

Louisiana-Lafayette returns 10 starters to its defense in 2001. The only newcomer is Derace James, a defensive end transfer from LSU.

“Our team has taken a lot of pride in our defense particularly because we have 10 of 11 starters returning,” Cajuns coach Jerry Baldwin said. “They want to be the best defense in our league and they have adopted that as their slogan for the season.”

The pride Louisiana-Lafayette holds couldn’t have been more evident after last weekend’s season-opening 20-0 defeat of Nicholls State.

The Cajuns defense held the Colonels without a reception on 11 pass attempts, permitted only four first downs and a mere 57 yards of total offense. Louisiana-Lafayette also forced two fumbles, had three sacks, and stopped Nicholls State on all 12 third down conversions.

Granted, the Colonels are a Division I-AA team, but Gophers coach Glen Mason still took notice of Louisiana-Lafayette’s effort.

“They dominated their opponent,” Mason said. “If you can’t be impressed with what they did defensively, I don’t know how you can.

“I have never been around a defensive team that has performed like that. They will be a challenge for us.”

Said Gophers wide receiver Ron Johnson: “They play hard. After last week, they are flying high defensively.”

The Gophers offense, however, hasn’t even taken off. Minnesota is still seeking the confidence the Cajuns found a week ago.

With seven starters returning to an offense that produced an average of more than 31 points and 429 yards per game last season, Minnesota’s attack is expected to carry the Gophers this season.

Against Toledo, it was a different story as the Gophers combined to score just seven points with 290 total yards.

None of Minnesota’s go-to guys stepped up against the Rockets as the Gophers stumbled on their first step towards a third-straight bowl appearance – Minnesota’s goal this year.

Running back Tellis Redmon, who rushed for 1,368 yards last season, was contained to just 68 on the ground.

Johnson, who caught 61 balls for 1,125 yards, was held to just 72 against the Rockets.

And the dual quarterbacks of Travis Cole and Asad Abdul-Khaliq – who combined to throw for 2,658 yards last season – passed for just 187 yards.

Mason believes his offense can produce at a higher level the rest of the season, starting with the Cajuns. The Gophers just need to prove it on Saturday.

“We better be capable of playing better,” Mason said. “If we play like (we did against Toledo) we won’t beat anybody this year.

“They always talk about, you should make the most improvement between game one and two; we better because we have a long way to go.”

The Cajuns and their rejuvenated defense will try and limit Minnesota’s improvement.


John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]