Photograph: Quarterback Ben Wooldridge escapes a tackle. (Photograph by Mike Curley)
The Louisiana defense demonstrated an overall early season readiness, while it’s obvious the Ragin’ Cajuns offensive pass protection still has work to do.
That was seemingly the overall assessment of Louisiana head football coach Mike Desormeaux after his team opened 2023 with a 38-13 Saturday night victory over Northwestern State at Cajun Field.
Due to heat concerns and a brief flash of pre-game lightning, the opening kickoff didn’t occur until 7:49 p.m.
Whether that delayed start was a factor in affecting the Cajuns’ offensive line performance is something the coaches will determine later this week.
However it was the Louisiana defense which drew most of the compliments from Desormeaux.
Louisiana limited NSU to a first half field goal and by the end of the game the Demons compiled only 187 total yards.
Conversely the offense committed three turnovers during the first two quarters and blocking issues at times forced senior quarterback Ben Wooldridge into scrambles and hurried throws.
“Defensively I am proud of the way we played. Our defense was there to put the fire out everytime. They played fast and physical and kept the game from having a pendulum swing,” said Desormeaux.
Without the benefit of tape review, Desormeaux said the Cajuns need to look at the offensive line performance before making specific evaluations.
“There are some things we need to clean up, like turnovers and other things. While the defense was at a high level, our offensive (pass) protection could be a lot better. We have a pretty talented group of receivers who got open, but we couldn’t get them the ball,” Desormeaux said.
Desormeaux admitted Northwestern had something to do with the overall offensive line performance.
“I thought (Northwestern) came in with a good scheme up front. They were running a bunch of games. I thought their plan was to stop our inside zone stuff, but I thought we were able to block that pretty well,” Desormeaux said.
Despite the problem with pass protection, Desormeaux said the Cajuns’ running game was impressive.
“I thought our backs did a good job vertically. It was hit it and let’s go,” said Desormeaux.
Louisiana gained 429 total yards and Wooldridge,playing for the first time in 10 months following ACL knee surgery, threw for three touchdowns and 233 yards.
Desormeaux said the knee injury, which occurred during the final part of the 2022 season, didn’t seem to bother Wooldridge, who started and completed 14-of-32 attempts.
Wooldridge ran for a touchdown and then threw TD’s caught by wide receivers Peter LeBlanc, Tavion Smith and Rob Williams.
“I’m proud of Ben. We did not protect very well. You have to be efficient when you’re getting hit and stuff. He was able to stand in there with pressure in his face time after time and still make some throws,” said Desormeaux.
Northwestern head football coach Brad Laird said he was proud of the Demons’ defense, which recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass in the first half.
“You look at big plays, and they (Louisiana) were able to convert some, but I thought we were able to hold our own,” said Laird.
Laird said he liked the Demons’ energy throughout the 60 minutes.
“I’ve got to do a better job, but I’m really proud of how the guys fought. They fought for four quarters,” said Laird.
NEXT WEEK: The Cajuns play at Old Dominion Saturday.