The Ragin' Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
Labor Day highlights the best weekend in college football. The endless waiting and wondering are over. Most teams take the field for the first time and everyone is undefeated. Their fans are full of hope. Even after the extended holiday exactly half of them remain hopeful. What's not to like?
I reminded myself of these truths as the windshield wipers counted down the 30th minute of my wait in the left turn lane on Bertrand at Congress. So far the turn signal had flashed only twice, for five seconds each time. The car in front of me overheated, and three lanes had to be blocked before it could be pushed to the curb. I'm no traffic expert, but it seems a police department that throws up barricades at the mention of a Mardi Gras parade could do a better job on game day routing cars around Cajun Field.
Suddenly there were sirens. Then a half dozen police cars and a couple of huge buses rushed through the intersection I had come to know so well. It was the Southern football team arriving 45 minutes before kickoff. Those who wondered why the Jaguars were on the field and stretching during the National Anthem now know why: It was then or never.
The all-day rain kept the crowd below the expected record-setting number, but let's stop the moaning. The 36,170 who braved the rain and somehow made it to their seats was the third largest crowd in Cajun Field history. That's a compliment to Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns and an indication of how ready the Cajun Nation was for some football.
The question was whether the Cajuns themselves would be ready for the first game of a season of great expectations. After pushing Southern back a yard on their first possession, UL started with three rushes for a quick first down. Terrance Broadway then rather nonchalantly threw his first pass of the season. It was intercepted. Much later, his last pass of the night, a 40-yard prayer, was also intercepted. Between those two throws Broadway picked the Jaguar pass defense apart, throwing to 13 receivers for 237 yards and two touchdowns. On his last play of the evening he ran for another with 13:52 left in the game. At all times Broadway looked in complete control.
Brooks Haak led the Cajuns on their next and last possession, a 10-play, 55-yard scoring drive capped by a TD pass to Larry Pettis. Haak appeared ready if needed. Also ready was the UL ground game led by Elijah McGuire (129 yards, 1 TD). But the offensive star was wide receiver Jamal Robinson (112 yards, 2 TDs) with more than a couple spectacular catches. One made the ESPN Top Ten Plays of the Day, just the type of national introduction needed for postseason honors.
On defense the Cajuns stuffed Southern's rushing attack with strong play from the front seven. To find fault with the UL performance one had to look long and hard. Maybe a secondary that gave up 202 passing yards to a pair of freshmen quarterbacks might qualify. Against Louisiana Tech that could matter. Iowa transfer QB Cody Sokol threw for Tech's only two touchdowns against Oklahoma in a 48-16 drubbing. But that's next Saturday, the week after Labor Day and the second best weekend in the college football.
Musical Note: The Southern Band aka The Human Jukebox was as good as advertised, maybe better. The halftime show was terrific, the sound from the stands during the game was wonderful, but the highlight came after the game. The band treated the fans who stayed for the final whistle to a three-song concert, including the absolute best version of Bohemian Rhapsody I've ever heard. It's all over the Internet. UL absolutely has to play the Jaguars every year.