The Louisiana Ragin Cajuns, sitting at 2-1 after a 41-21 victory over UAB on the road, has to feel good right now.
Obviously, it’s a devastating situation involving your sixth-year senior quarterback Ben Wooldridge, who went down with a lower-body injury on the team’s first offensive possession of the game, but you had a freshman waiting in the wings who was the starter in spring due to injuries to Wooldridge and Chandler Fields.
Zeon Chriss was thrown into a tough situation Saturday night and put on a show. Sure, the team had a two-hour lightning delay to sit down and map out a new play sheet that fit Chriss’s game best, but that doesn’t mean much if it isn’t put together on the field. Louisiana’s offense had an extra level of tempo and energy with Chriss on the field which led to a dominant performance where the Cajuns scored 27 straight points after the delay.
Now, when you look back on the spring when Chriss was taking 95% of the snaps, you may wonder why he didn’t start the season. Well, Ben Wooldridge did an incredible job in the offseason of getting himself healthy because he wanted to be there for his team as an on-the-field leader in his final season. For the first two games, that seemed to be going very well.
Until it wasn’t.
Significance of Wooldridge Injury
Wooldridge’s injury suffered in the first quarter Saturday is quite significant to the Cajuns for more than just his ability on the field.
“He’s not going to require surgery,” head coach Michael Desormeaux said Monday. “He will be out for a significant amount of time, the foreseeable future for sure. So, we’re gonna support him and we’re gonna do everything we can. I think one thing we’ve all learned about him is his resolve and his determination to get back. So this is something they feel like, by the end of the year, hopefully for six weeks, something like that he’ll be able to get himself in position to come back.”
Wooldridge will be out an extensive period, but his ability to be a leader for this team will still be present and I think that’s an invaluable asset for this Cajuns team as they enter the grind of their schedule over the next few weeks. Also, Chriss is in the best hands learning from a player like Wooldridge and a coach like Desormeaux.
This defense continues to shine
The Louisiana defense has been a strong point in 2023, but the performance Saturday night was nothing short of outstanding. LaMar Morgan’s group had seven sacks on the night and two interceptions while holding the Blazers to just three points until the final four minutes of the contest. The seven sacks put Louisiana at 15 through three games, good for second-best in the nation.
Jordan Lawson is tied for third in the nation with four sacks on the young season and newly named LSWA Defensive Player of the Week Cameron Whitfield is tied for 30th nationally with 2.5 sacks.
The rain delay couldn’t have been at a better time
Shortly after the Wooldridge injury and Chriss came in at quarterback, the whole team looked dejected. It appeared as if the game plan went to “let’s just get through this game and we’ll get back to the drawing board. Maybe a play or two goes our way and we can get an ugly win.”
However, the extended rain delay gave the Cajuns the opportunity to sit down with Chriss and the rest of the quarterbacks to see what would best fit the new offense that Louisiana would run without Wooldridge. The Cajuns came out of the break and scored a touchdown in just a few plays and were off and running after that, outscoring UAB 27-0 and then 41-3 before a few misfortunes put points on the board for the Blazers.
This win was much needed for the Cajuns because it put them back on track and gave them momentum as they get set for conference play. But more than that, it showed a redshirt freshman quarterback that he is more than capable of running this offense in the absence of their leader. And that is something that is exponential.
Louisiana will battle with the Bulls of Buffalo University this Saturday at Cajun Field at Our Lady of Lourdes Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m and can be streamed on ESPN+.
Matt Miguez is the host of the Miguez Mindset podcast on ESPN Southwest Louisiana’s YouTube channel. He is also a contributing writer for ESPN 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles.