Preview: Minnesota at #25 USC
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Time: 12:30 pm PT
After recording just a single win through eight games, the relationship between Minnesota football and Tim Brewster ended before the season came to a close. It was time to reevaluate the expectations of the program and make a change for the better. The losing streak swelled to nine under interim Jeff Horton, before the team managed to shock both Illinois and Iowa in the final two games. Jerry Kill was the biggest acquisition of the offseason, plucked from Northern Illinois in hopes of repeating success. And as Big 10 David takes on Pac 12 Goliath in the season opener, it won’t take long for the new skipper to determine what his program has and still needs.
USC, though better in the win column, is equally disappointed in its 2010 performance. The five losses under first year coach Lane Kiffin marks the most in a single season in 8 years. The Trojans would also finish unranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2001. The offseason was highlighted by distractions, most notably a failed appeal and another year of postseason restriction. It’s a program that may not roar as mighty as it once did, but still delivers a bigger bite than its visitor.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-0)
National Rank: None
2010 Finish: 3-9
Defense: Despite the difference in win-loss records, the Gophers’ defense finished statistically higher (76th) than this weekend’s opponent. That defense was also a key factor in the team’s inability to provide victories, especially in two crucial categories. Last year’s Gophers recorded only 8 sacks as a team, the fewest of 120 FBS programs. But even more crippling was the unit’s failure to defend the run, allowing season opponents an average of 191.4 rushing yards per game. It’s a unit that now returns 9 starters and welcomes back safety Kim Royster, who missed all of last season with a leg fracture. It will also add talented Florida transfer, Brandon Beal, to its group of linebackers. The mission is simple in theory, pressure the quarterback, corral ball carriers, and trim the opposition’s point total from the embarrassing 33 points per game surrendered by the Brewster led team a year ago. It’s more difficult to execute with a roster dwarfed in talent by its host.
Offense: The offense undergoes several changes, most noticeably at quarterback. Adam Weber is now replaced by dual-threat MarQueis Gray, who was Minnesota’s leading receiver against USC in the game played last year. He adds another dimension to the Gopher attack, unlike the more stationary target the Trojans faced in Minneapolis. The trouble spot comes in protection, where only two starters return on the offensive line. The team is also minus DeLeon Eskridge, the leading rusher in 2010, leaving Duane Bennett to fill the void.
USC Trojans (0-0)
National Rank: 25 (AP)
2010 Finish: 8-5
Defense: The first depth chart indicates that some positions remain unsettled and competition continues. But regardless, USC will show a different look from 2010. Devon Kennard is moved back to defensive end, following the failed middle linebacker experiment last year. That places the most experienced linebacker, Chris Galippo, back in the middle, where he’ll be supported by youth on either side. The catalyst of last season’s collapse also adds new faces. Nickell Robey and Tony Burnett will man the corners, with Jawanza Starling and T.J. McDonald at safety. The Trojans finished the first season under Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin ranked 109th nationally defending the pass, but expect major improvement as it enters a second year with the new coaching staff.
Offense: Matt Barkley will lead his team on the field, where the Heisman watch-list quarterback will have a plethora of weapons at his disposal. But similar to their opponent, the question mark is on the offensive line, where the team lost three starters, including All-American Tyron Smith. In Matt Kalil, the unit boasts the best left tackle in the country, but much will be determined by how quickly the group can come together as one.
Analysis: As the two teams battled a year ago, it became apparent that Brewster’s approach was to play not to get embarrassed, instead of playing for the win. Don’t expect the same from Jerry Kill, who will be looking to topple the high profile Trojans to debut in style. It’s a difficult task, especially when history weighs heavy in Southern California’s favor. Minnesota hasn’t won a game in a Pacific bordering state since its 1964 defeat of Cal in Berkeley. That streak of futility isn’t exclusive to BCS foes, as it also includes losses to San Diego State and Hawaii. On the opposite side of the spectrum, USC hasn’t been beaten in Los Angeles by a Big 10 opponent since Illinois scored a one-point upset victory over the Todd Marinovich led Trojans in 1989.
Focusing strictly on the present, this is a matter of who can hold the line. Allen Bradford ran for an average of nearly 11 yards per carry against the Gopher defense last year, while Minnesota backs were held below the century mark combined. The additional mobility at quarterback may be enough to shift defensive focus and free more running lanes, but only if the newly patched offensive line can deliver up front.
X-Factor: Trojan Running backs: USC may not miss Marc Tyler as a ball carrier, with other backs more than capable of filling shoes. But the area where the most experienced of the group may be missed is in pass protection, picking up blitzes and keeping Barkley clean. The ability or inability to provide protection in pass situations will be the difference between a conservative approach that can keep a visitor in the game or wide open attack that can seal victory long before the clock expires.
All Time Series: USC leads 5-1-1
Last Meeting: USC 32, Minnesota 21 (2010)
Streak: USC has won 4 consecutive
Line: USC -21
- USC has won 10 consecutive games over Big 10 Opponents-last loss occurring 15 years ago (Penn State 1996)
- USC has an active streak of 7 consecutive victories over the Big 10 in games played in California.
- Minnesota is winless in the last 7 games played in states bordering the Pacific Ocean. Played USC to a tie in 1965
- USC has won 13 consecutive season openers