Preview: No. 18 USC at Minnesota

TCF Bank Stadium
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Saturday September 18, 2010
12:30 PM PT

When The Trojans and Gophers announced the agreement for a home-and-home series back in January of 2009, Minnesota was a 7-6 program that was considered by many to be on the rise. USC, at the time, was the 7-time defending Pac 10 champions that routinely bullied out of conference opponents. Things have changed.

What the Trojans will find in Minnesota is a program that has spiraled downward under a coach currently sitting on the hottest seat in college football. The Gophers will host a USC team that has yet to have any semblance of those dominant teams of old.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-1)

National Rank: none
Last Week: lost 41-34 to South Dakota

Minnesota is presented with a golden opportunity to shed the embarrassment of last week’s loss to FCS South Dakota. Only a high profile victory can stop the bleeding for a program whose last triumph over an AQ conference opponent came on Halloween of 2009.

Despite the miserable start to the current season, the Gophers have bright spots, though many are deceiving and more reflective of their early opponents. The Gophers, who enter as 13.5 underdogs on Saturday, are statistically better than the visiting Trojans in several categories.

The offense averages 446 yards per game, which ranks 28th best in the country. Tailback Duane Bennett (145.50 ypc) is sixth in the nation in rushing. The passing game is led by Quarterback Adam Weber, and currently stands as the 23rd most efficient in college football.

The numbers are a bit skewed, of course, after facing less challenging defenses in Middle Tennessee and South Dakota. But this weekend’s opponent arrives with one of the poorest statistical defenses of this early season. USC checks in at 107th in total defense, with most of that damage caused by Hawaii. If Minnesota is to have any chance, the Gophers will need to take advantage of a unit that is thin, inexperienced, and has displayed mental lapses at times.

USC Trojans (2-0)

National Rank: 18 (AP)
Last Week: defeated Virginia 17-14

Lane Kiffin chose not to address the penalties that have plagued his team over the first two games. To this point, the only thing that has been consistent for the Trojans is the amount of laundry on the field. USC has been flagged 24 times, tying it with Arizona State as the national leader in the category. Hawaii and Virginia were the beneficiaries of those flags, as they were allowed to hang around and create finishes that were closer than anticipated.

The Trojans have also been lopsided as a team. It’s been one week of offense and another loaded with defense. In Minnesota, we may finally find balance, and a final score holding more true to predictions.

USC defensive tackle Armond Armstead and defensive end Nick Perry have been limited in practice, but are fully expected to play on Saturday. Armstead is nursing a sore shoulder, and Perry has been slowed by an ankle injury. Jordan Cameron, who suffered a concussion against Virginia, remains questionable.

Analysis: What has been evident so far this season is that the Gophers struggle to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Minnesota’s opponents combine for a 177.50 pass efficiency rating, and have been sacked just once in two games. Matt Barkley wasn’t as well protected against the Virginia pass rush last week, and it showed in the drop off in numbers. But the last time he was allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket, he threw for five touchdowns in a 49 point performance against Hawaii. The Gophers are setup to become victims of a Barkley opening game repeat.

X-Factor: This week’s X-factor is Minnesota’s Duane Bennett. The Gophers will desperately need to establish a ground game, which will allow them some control of the clock. Tim Brewster’s best defense may be keeping his offense on the field for as long as possible.

Prediction: USC 42, Minnesota 10

All Time Series: USC leads 4-1-1
Streak: USC has won 3 consecutive
Last Meeting: USC 24, Minnesota 7 (1980)

Fun Facts: The Trojans have won 9 consecutive games over Big Ten opponents. The active streak extends 14 years, with the last loss recorded in the 1996 Kickoff Classic to Penn State.


~ by Anthony on September 16, 2010.

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