Game Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

No. 18 USC Trojans at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head Coach: Tim Brewster (4th year; 15-25)

Conference: Big 10

Record: 1-1

Stars: QB Adam Weber, WR MarQueis Gray

Location: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Time: 12:30 PM PDT

TV: ESPN

Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM

Spread: Minnesota (+12)

Matchup: Once upon a time, Lane Kiffin interviewed for the Minnesota job, but the Gophers selected Tim Brewster to take over their program. Now, Kiffin will have his chance to coach in TCF Bank Stadium, but he will be on the opposing sideline. The forecast predicts the temperature to be in the low 60s, with a 30% chance of rain. On top of the weather, the crowd figures to be fired up for a national television showdown against a ranked opponent with a storied history.

Minnesota comes limping into tomorrow’s contest. Last week, the Gophers suffered an embarrassing 41-38 home defeat at the hands of FCS South Dakota. The week before that, they squeaked by Middle Tennessee State by a count of 24-17. Tim Brewster is on the hot seat and desperately needs a marquee win to turn the tide.

USC arrives in Minneapolis 2-0. Although their is a negative air from some fans and pundits, the fact remains that USC is one of only 42 teams in the country at 2-0. Last week, they won a 17-14 defensive slugfest against Virginia and need to clean up the penalties.

On the offensive side of the ball, Minnesota isn’t a  slouch. Nine starters are back from last year and experience is abundant. The offensive line was a major question mark coming into the season, but they have fared well so far under first-year coordinator Jeff Horton. The Golden Gophers are ranked 18th in the country in yards per game (242.5). USC has struggled against the run over the past year, and the onus will be on the front seven to clog up the holes. Junior running back Duane Bennett is averaging 6.1 yards per carry and figures to have a big impact. However, USC can’t put all their focus on the running game. Third-year starter Adam Weber has completed 64.5% (31-48) of his passes and has three touchdowns to zero interceptions. The Gophers have put up 31 points per game in the first two weeks.

USC’s defense showed marked improvement from week 1 to week 2, and they will need to continue the progress to handle this offense. The tackling improved last week, and expect the improvement to continue. The feeling here is that the defense will get progressively better. Shareece Wright has done a great job at one of the corner spots, and freshman Nickell Robey is coming along. The main complaint with the defense after week 2 has to be the lack penetration by the defensive line. They need to put more pressure on the quarterback and assert their dominance.

USC’s offense is coming off of a sub-par performance against Virginia. The offensive line was manhandled, which caused Matt Barkley to scramble constantly. In addition, there weren’t sufficient holes for Marc Tyler to run through. It appears USC has run into the right opponent to get back on track offensively. Minnesota has nine new starters on defense and is soft in the middle. Two safeties return, but the cornerbacks are new and ripe for exploitation.

Matt Barkley has to be licking his chops. After a tough performance last week, expect him to bounce back in a big way against a soft Gopher defense. He struggled a bit with his footwork and missed a few passes long or short, but a week of practice means improvement. Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods should be able to get sufficient separation and there is the potential for a number of long pass plays.  The only way USC loses this game Barkley me is if turns the ball over. He needs to continue to limit the interceptions and make good decisions.

Marc Tyler should have a much bigger week. Despite gaining only 67 yards against Virginia, he still leads the Pac-10 in rushing yards. The offensive line should have their way with the inexperienced line and open up holes for Tyler to run through. His performance will mirror Hawaii much more than last week. Also, we will get our second look at Dillon Baxter. Kiffin seems intent on getting the true freshman more involved in the offense because of his explosive ability.

Stat of the Week: USC hasn’t lost an out of conference regular season game since September 21, 2002, at No. 25 Kansas State.

Final Score Prediction: 45-21

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