Gophers Play Better But Fall to USC Trojans 32-21
September 18, 2010

No one could fault the performance of the Minnesota Gophers in their 32-21 loss to the University of Southern California. Had the Gophers played this well the previous week, they wouldn’t have lost to the South Dakota Coyotes. However, the loss to South Dakota put the Gophers in the position of needing an actual victory, not just a moral victory, against the Trojans. A victory over a ranked opponent (USC was rated No. 18 in the country) and a storied foe will at least partially erase the ignominy of the previous week’s loss.

The Gophers scored first and briefly (12 seconds) held the lead in the second half, but the Trojans had enough talent to overcome their own mistakes and beat the Gophers, building an 18-point lead before Minnesota scored a late touchdown after USC had removed most of its starters.

“We didn’t play perfect,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin, noting that the team’s offense played “extremely poorly” early in the game.

Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said they stuck to “the patience of our plan,” which included running the ball frequently against the Trojans’ strong line. “We will not see a whole lot of defensive fronts like we saw today,” said Brewster.

The Gophers carried the ball 37 times for a total of 83 yards with freshman Donnell Kirkwood gaining the most yards, 44, of the running backs. The difficulty in running the ball made things harder for quarterback Adam Weber, but it was a 37-yard pass to MarQueis Gray on a 3rd and 9 from the Minnesota 32 that led to the Gophers’ first touchdown. The Gophers stayed on the ground from there to get inside the USC 10 and then benefited from a defensive holding call on cornerback Nickell Robey to get a first down on the 4. Two plays later, DeLeon Eskridge took it in from the 1 and the Gophers had a 7-0 lead.

The Trojans tied the game with a 13-play, 60-yard drive and took the lead in the second quarter when Matt Barkley hit Ronald Johnson with a 53-yard touchdown pass. USC opted for a two-point try, which failed, and carried a 13-7 lead into halftime.

USC took the opening kickoff in the second half and drove into Minnesota territory before a penalty for an illegal block pushed them back to its own 40. On the next play, Barkley had his pass intercepted by James Manuel at the Minnesota 35.

Weber found Gray for a 20-yard reception into USC territory. On third down, needing 6 yards, Weber scrambled out of a sack and ran up the middle for a first down at the 31. Again facing a third down, from the 31, Weber went to the air with a pass down the left sideline for Da’Jon McKnight, who was covered by Robey. The pass was on target, caught by McKnight, and taken into the end zone. Eric Ellestad’s point-after put the Gophers ahead 14-13 with 5:47 left in the third quarter.

The lead lasted only as long as it took Robert Woods, a sprinter in high-school, to race the length of the gridiron. Woods took Ellestad’s kickoff on the 3-yard line on the right side of the field. He went to his left, saw a hole big enough to dart through, and was left with only Ellison to beat. Woods raced past the Minnesota kicker down the left sideline and, in only 12 seconds, had erased the momentum of the Gophers’ go-ahead touchdown. Another two-point conversion failed, but the Trojans had a 19-14 lead.

The USC defense stiffened and gave the offense a chance to expand the lead. A 21-yard touchdown pass from Barkley to David Ausberry made the score 26-14. Five minutes later, Allen Bradford burst through the Minnesota line into open field and romped for a 56-yard touchdown. Bradford led all rushers in the game with 133 yards on 12 carries.

Kiffin said he was excited to be 3-0 and heading into conference play undefeated but noted, “We’ve got a ways to go.”

Minnesota will return to the ranks of unranked teams next week with a game against Northern Illinois before it begins its Big Ten season.

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