Looking to follow the success of their fellow conference peers, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns were unable to add to an impressive streak to begin the 2023 football season for the Sun Belt Conference.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were unable to catch the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a hard-fought 35–24 loss on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Minneapolis, MN.
A win would’ve marked the fifth straight week a Sun Belt school scored a victory over an autonomy five opponent: Texas State over Baylor in Week 1, James Madison over Virginia in Week 2, South Alabama over Oklahoma State in Week 3 and Marshall over Virginia Tech in Week 4.
Continuing where he left off after replacing an injured Ben Wooldridge in Week 4 against the UAB Blazers, quarterback Zeon Chriss was far and away the best athlete on the field during the first half at Huntington Bank Stadium.
The redshirt freshman routinely picked up chunk gains using his legs and found his targets through I-10 traffic with surgical precision.
Chriss finished the first half 8 of 12 passing for 101 yards and added 67 yards rushing with four carries going for 10-plus yards.
The scoring highlights of the half were a beautiful ball floated to senior wideout Peter LeBlanc in the back right corner of the endzone on the first drive of the game and a high-point pass for sophomore receiver Robert Williams in the back of the endzone towards the end of the second quarter.
Lack of game experience showed as Chriss’ second half was equally as poor as his first half was amazing.
With Louisiana playing from behind, Minnesota’s pass rush forced Chriss into two costly interceptions.
The first was easily ball hawked by Preseason Second-Team All-Big Ten selection and future NFL safety Tyler Nubin.
With three Golden Gophers in Chriss’ face, the second pick was an errant pass thrown right to Mandeville, LA native Jack Henderson.
If you take away the late 52-yard garbage-time touchdown run from senior tailback Jacob Kibodi, Louisiana’s run game was still effective in averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
Chriss’ 74 rushing yards led the team, followed by Kibodi’s 65 and sophomore Dre’Lyn Washington’s 36.
It appeared the Ragin’ Cajuns caught a small break when running back Darius Taylor, three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week in 2023, didn’t suit up. Minnesota, however, didn’t employ much of a passing game at all.
The Golden Gophers attempted only eight passes in each half, two of which resulted in costly pass interference calls on the Cajuns.
Minnesota pounded the rock 51 times and often turned to the quarterback push to pick up short-yardage first downs when in chew-clock mode in the fourth.
The Ragin’ Cajuns had as much success stopping the QB push as the rest of the NFL has against Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Tush Push”.
Louisiana came into the game leading all of college football with 18 sacks. With the Golden Gophers’ limited dropbacks, linebacker Cameron Whitfield was able to add to that total with the Cajuns’ only sack of the game, giving the sophomore 3.5 on the year.
Ragin’ Cajuns junior safety Tyrone Lewis, Jr. also managed to record Louisiana’s sixth takeaway of the year with an interception on a deep ball at the end of the first half despite Minnesota’s alienation of the passing game.
Louisiana could’ve very well made it five straight weeks with a power five win for the Sun Belt if the mistakes were cleaned up.
Lafayette saw both the good and bad from Chriss. His navigation and decision making under pressure should only improve with more live reps.
Penalties also need to be a point of emphasis. Louisiana committed seven penalties for 60 yards compared to Minnesota’s lone 15-yard infraction.
Look for both of those trends to improve when the Ragin’ Cajuns return home for the next two contests where they’re 2–0 on the young season.
After all, this is a team that can score points and pressure opposing quarterbacks (assuming they actually drop back to pass the ball), a formula for winning.
Louisiana hosts the Texas State Bobcats at Cajun Field on Saturday, Oct. 7. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. CST.