Daniel Jackson caught a pair of touchdown passes Saturday and Minnesota pulled away in the second half to beat Louisiana-Lafayette 35-24 and end a two-game slide.
It was a somewhat solid bounce-back performance for Minnesota, which blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in last week’s 37-34 overtime loss at Northwestern.
Minnesota (3-2) did it without freshman running back Darius Taylor who ran for 198 yards before injuring his leg late in last week’s loss. His 133 rushing yards per game rank second nationally, and he’s received three straight Big Ten freshman of the week honors.
Without Taylor, Minnesota saw three running backs and quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis get between 10 and 15 carries apiece. Zach Evans ran for 85 yards with his first 15 carries of the season, Bryce Williams had 53 yards and a score, and Sean Tyler had 47 yards. Kaliakmanis added 17.
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!
“Everybody wants to play but are you ready when your opportunity comes and what do you do with it? Because if you’re not ready and it comes, you probably won’t get many more opportunities,” said coach P.J. Fleck. “A guy like Zach Evans took huge advantage of that today. … Bryce played hard today, Sean did well today.”
Dual-threat quarterback Zeon Chriss passed for 172 yards and ran for 74 for Louisiana (3-2). The Ragin’ Cajuns went in averaging 38.8 points per game but got only a 52-yard run by Jacob Kibodi for second-half points.
Evans capped an 11-play drive with an 18-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter for Minnesota for a 21-17 lead. Williams added a 2-yard run early in the fourth quarter and Kaliakmanis later found Jackson for a 37-yard score.
“We were able to take a deep breath and just focus on what we need to do,” said Kaliakmanis, who finished 12 of 14 for 146 yards and two touchdowns. “We were put in the same position to go and win the game. Northwestern, we came up a little short, but today I’m so proud of the guys the way we finished the game. … We all responded.”
Louisiana-Lafayette had 211 yards of offense in the first half but ran just eight plays and gained 30 yards in the third quarter. That included an incomplete fourth-down pass near midfield and an interception by Minnesota’s Tyler Nubin. Playing in front of about a dozen family and friends, Louisiana-native Jack Henderson added a fourth quarter pick.
Eclipsing more than 500 total yards in each of its past two games, Louisiana-Lafayette finished with 349 against the Golden Gophers.
“We knew we were going to have make all our possessions count … We just didn’t do that in the second half,” said coach Michael Desormeaux.
On an 80-degree, muggy day with no wind, the Ragin’ Cajuns scored on three of their first four drives, including a 7-yard touchdown reception by Peter LeBlanc and a 6-yard score by Robert Williams en route to a 17-14 halftime lead. Kaliakmanis threw a 10-yard score to Jackson and snuck in from the 2 for Minnesota.
Minnesota is 12-0 all-time against Sun Belt Conference opponents. In addition to being 4-0 against Louisiana, the Gophers have three wins against Louisiana-Monroe, a pair of wins against Arkansas State, and single victories versus Georgia Southern, Texas State and Troy.
Louisiana-Lafayette: Returns to Sun Belt Conference play with an Oct. 7 home game against Texas State.
Minnesota: In a nationally televised primetime game, No. 2 Michigan visits next Saturday in the latest battle for the Little Brown Jug that has gone to the winner since 1903.