TIME: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (CST)
SITE: Minneapolis, Minn.
STADIUM: TCF Bank Stadium
SERIES: USC leads the series with a 4-1-1 record. The last meeting between the two teams was held in 1980, which USC won convincingly 24-7. The Gophers' lone victory in the series came in a 25-19 victory at Memorial Stadium in 1955.
RECORD: Minnesota (1-1, 0-0 Big Ten), Southern Cal (2-0, 0-0 Pac-10)
PREDICTION: Southern Cal 34 - 24
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- The running game has been excellent and Minnesota will continue to try grinding it out on the ground, but Adam Weber and the Gophers need to attack the weakness of the Trojan defense, its secondary. The Trojans rank last in the Pacific-10 Conference in pass defense so the inexperienced secondary could yield big plays to wide receivers Da'Jon McKnight and MarQueis Gray. If Minnesota can establish a balanced offensive attack they can control the ball and help their struggling defense by keeping them off the field.
Defensively, Minnesota will need to limit explosive plays for long gains in the passing game. The Gophers rank 116th in pass efficiency defense against two teams with far less talented athletes than USC. The return of senior Kyle Theret at safety should improve the secondary, but freshman safety James Manuel and sophomore corner back Michael Carter will need to improve their play significantly this week if Minnesota has any hope of slowing down the Trojan aerial attack.
-- The Trojans must reduce the amount of self-inflicted mistakes, especially penalties. USC leads the nation with 24 penalties for 248 yards. Although the Trojans escaped their first two games with a win, costly penalties at inopportune moments could prove costly against the Gophers.
On defense, the key for the Trojans will be to slow down running back Duane Bennett who has back-to-back 100 yard rushing games. Bennett has been the most consistent and explosive player for Minnesota. He is also an emotional spark-plug for the offense. If they can shut down Bennett early it may stifle the Gophers momentum and force Minnesota into abandoning their run-first game plan. If that happens, the Trojans will likely try and suffocate Adam Weber with pressure and force him into making bad decisions.
Offensively, USC needs to keep it simple and get off to a fast start. Against Virginia, none of the Trojan's first five drives went for longer than 29 yards and they ended up with only 17 points and 329 yards. Look for Southern Cal to run the ball early with their stable of running backs and then attack the porous Gopher secondary with play action passes to Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods. SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Minnesota's rushing attack has been outstanding. The veteran offensive line has opened holes for running back Duane Bennett who ranks sixth nationally, averaging 145.5 yards per game. It will be interesting to see how effective Minnesota can be running the ball against the biggest, fastest, most athletic defense they have played this season.
While the Gophers are committed to running the football they are not a one dimensional offense. Senior quarterback Adam Weber hasn't been spectacular, but he's been solid. He has managed the offense well and is ranked 23rd in the nation in passing efficiency. Weber may have found a new go-to target in the player who backs him at quarterback. MarQueis Gray had a breakout performance at wide receiver against South Dakota catching 9 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Scoring 38 points is usually enough to secure a victory but it wasn't last week when the Coyote offense gashed the Gopher defense for 41 points and 446 total yards. Following the game quarterback Donte Warren said he and his teammates thought they could score anytime they wanted on the Minnesota defense.
The Trojans, who are banned from post-season play for violation of certain NCAA polices, are off to a 2-0 start. USC traveled to Hawaii to open the season and eked out a 17-14 victory over Virginia at home last weekend. The Trojan offense features efficient quarterback Matt Barkley, who has completed 66% of his passes with 7 touchdowns and has yet to be picked off, explosive wide receiver Ronald Johnson and running back Marc Tyler, who leads the Pac-10 in rushing with 110 yards per game.
USC's defense, which has been getting to opposing quarterbacks, is led by defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, linebacker Devon Kennard, corner back Shareece Wright and safety T.J. McDonald. The Trojans have struggled defending the pass and Minnesota could look to stretch the defense exploit the inexperienced secondary with deep passes off of play action.
Gophers: The loss to South Dakota was the Gophers' second loss to an FCS team in less than four seasons after dropping a 2007 decision to North Dakota. Both of the FCS losses were home games for the Gophers … With one interception in each of the first two games of the season, sophomore linebacker Mike Rallis ranks 3rd in the nation in interceptions per game … Minnesota has come from behind in each of its last seven victories.
Trojans: USC has a 164-39-8 all-time record while playing in the month of September … The Trojans are 68-27-2 against Big Ten competition, including 17-9 in bowl meetings … All five USC running backs to carry the ball this season are averaging at least 4.9 yards per carry … Saturday's game will be a homecoming for USC head coach Lane Kiffin, who attended school at Bloomington High, and his defensive coordinator father, Monte, who was an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings.
Players to Watch:
-- WR Da'Jon McKnight #6 -- Many thought he would be the go-to wide receiver for Adam Weber this season but he has yet to have a breakout game. The Trojans rank last in the Pacific-10 Conference in pass defense so McKnight should be a major factor in the game plan, especially when he gets matched up against true freshman cornerback Nickell Robey. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound McKnight is a matchup nightmare for the diminutive 5-foot-8, 165-pound Robey, who could struggle with the length and strength of the Gopher wide receiver.
-- DT Jewhan Edwards #68 -- The massive 6-foot-2, 330-pound nose tackle made three tackles and all three of them were tackles for loss, including a sack. Edwards' three tackles-for-loss were a career-best. The Gophers need more consistent pressure from the defensive line or their defense will continue to struggle.
-- FS Kyle Theret #27 -- The senior is back after missing the first two games due to a suspension. "I think his experience is going to help settle James Manuel in helping him get lined up and do things," coach Brewster said about the return of Theret. "I know our defense is very excited to have Kyle back in the lineup and playing again."
-- RB Dillon Baxter #28 -- The true freshman missed the Trojans first game against Hawaii due to a suspension but return against Virginia, racking up 49 yards rushing and 8 yards receiving in his first collegiate game. The versatile athlete will play running back but will also line up as a slot receiver to catch passes. Baxter has freakish quickness and change-of-direction ability that make him so dangerous with the ball in his hands.
-- WR Ronald Johnson #83 -- The wide receiver is big play waiting to happen. He has already taken a punt return, 89 yards for a touchdown. The 6-foot-0, 185-pound senior is also the Trojans leading wide receiver with 117 yards and 3 touchdowns on 12 catches. His speed and explosive could pose problems for a Gopher secondary that was torched through the air last time out.
-- SS T.J. McDonald #7 -- The 6-foot-3, 205-pound headhunter leads the USC defense with 18 total tackles and 1 interception. The Trojans may line up the sophomore safety closer to the line of scrimmage on early downs to try and counter Minnesota's run-first mentality.
FS Kim Royston (leg, doubtful)
DE Nick Perry (ankle, probable), LB Marquis Simmons (appendix, questionable.)