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Gophers score early, often in 48-14 rout

Minnesota approached its final nonconference game of the season against Louisiana-Lafayette as a final tune-up for the Big Ten season.

Judging from its performance Saturday night against the Cajuns, Minnesota looked like it had been revamped with a brand new engine.

Armed with some newfound intensity, the Gophers (4-0) used an assortment of big plays to rack up 41 first-half points on their way to a 48-14 blowout at the Metrodome.

More importantly, Minnesota – who on Sunday broke into The Associated Press poll for the first time this year at No. 24 – improved in just about every area it struggled in a week ago versus Ohio.

“I would have been very disappointed with all the emphasis we put on this game if we didn’t play better than we did last week,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.

Playing against a winless Louisiana-Lafayette team that looked overmatched from the beginning, the Minnesota offense wasted no time lighting up the scoreboard.

Quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq (7-for-11, 116 yards, one touchdown) hooked up with Jared Ellerson for a 36-yard gain on the Gophers third offensive snap of the game. Two plays later, Marion Barber III took a handoff and burst up the middle of the field for a 15-yard touchdown just 4:22 into the game.

Barber found the end zone for a second time less than three minutes later on a seven-yard option after an Eli Ward interception gave Minnesota the ball at the Cajuns’ 40-yard line.

Barber finished the game with 120 of the team’s 356 rushing yards and two touchdowns. His 10 touchdowns of the season are the most of any player in the nation.

Minnesota led 31-0 before Louisiana-Lafayette backup quarterback Eric Rekieta engineered a nine-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to get the Cajuns on the board midway through the second quarter.

Wide receiver Aaron Hosack, backup quarterback Benji Kamrath and running back Thomas Tapeh all added first-half scores for the Gophers, who finished the game with six plays of at least 20 yards.

“That was one of our goals this week to come out on offense and not just have the OK plays,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “We wanted the big touchdowns and it worked (Saturday).”

Minnesota scored on its first five possessions and didn’t punt until there were six minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Defensively, the Gophers quickly squashed any hope the Cajuns might have had of an upset. Minnesota forced two turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes – both leading to touchdowns – and allowed just 86 yards of total offense in the first half, including an astounding one-yard rushing.

“I really challenged our players to start fast and I think they did that,” Mason said. “We played at our highest intensity level of any of our first four games.”

Minnesota place-kicker Rhys Lloyd added two field goals in the first half, the first a career best 54-yarder in the first quarter. Lloyd also handled punting duties for the second straight week.

With most of the Gophers’ starting lineup on the sidelines after halftime, the final two periods lacked the fireworks of the first half.

Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney did provide some sparks with a 47-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, strengthening his case for more touches in the backfield once the conference schedule gets underway Saturday at Penn State.

Maroney ended up with 16 carries for 132 yards and the touchdown, all after halftime. Tapeh and Terry Jackson II finished with 38 and 39 yards rushing respectively.

Now the Gophers’ attention will turn to Lions, who will play host to Minnesota on Saturday at the 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley.

“We have no choice but to be ready,” Ward said. “We’ve worked hard, we’ve been successful and I think it’s going to carry over. It’s going to show next week on the field.”

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