Although the anticipated rout never happened, there wasn't much for the Gophers to be happy about following a 32-21 loss to USC on Saturday.
Quarterback and team leader Adam Weber probably summed it up best after Minnesota suffered a second straight disappointing defeat at home."Right now losing is getting a little old," he said.
Weber certainly isn't in the minority with that opinion. After winning the opener at Middle Tennessee, the last two weeks have been a huge letdown for the Gophers. It began last week with a shocking 41-38 loss to South Dakota, an FCS school. The embarrassing defeat not only began the cries for coach Tim Brewster to be fired, but it shook the confidence level of the players as well.
To the credit of the coaching staff and the players, the Gophers never backed down from the Trojans. Minnesota scored in the first quarter to take the lead, only trailed by six points at halftime and took a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter.
A special teams breakdown led to USC's Robert Woods' 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which took the air out of the sellout crowd and the Gophers. USC built a 32-14 lead before Weber hit MarQuis Gray with a touchdown pass in the closing moments.
"We had this place really on fire and we gave up a kickoff return," Brewster said. "We've just got to do a better job in that situation."
Minnesota hosts Northern Illinois next week in its final non-conference game before starting Big Ten play Oct. 2 at home against Northwestern.
"It's important keeping this group together and winning next week," Weber said. "We still got another big team next week and then the Big Ten starts, so we got a lot to look forward to and a lot to stay positive about."
--After rushing for 485 yards in its first two games, Minnesota's running game was completely stuffed by USC's defense. The Gophers were held to 83 yards on the ground. Duane Bennett, who gained 189 and 110 yards in the first two games, was held to 8 yards on seven carries.
--Quarterback Adam Weber set a school record for career touchdown passes in the loss to USC. He threw for two TDs, giving him 57 for his career. Weber, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 224 yards, moved past Bryan Cupito and Asad Abdul-Khaliq on the career touchdown list. Weber also threw two interceptions.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR MarQuis Gray -- The converted quarterback is hitting his stride at his new position. He caught four passes for 98 yards and one touchdown against USC. Gray's longest gain of the day was 37 yards. He has the speed to fly through any secondary. Now that he's learning to run proper routes and get open, Gray is becoming a threat every time he lines up.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Eric Lair -- The junior is making his case for more playing time and to be a bigger part of the offense when he is on the field. Lair caught three passes for 27 yards against the Trojans. His 23-yard reception shows what he can do when he gets the ball in his hands. At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Lair is a difficult matchup for a strong safety or a linebacker trying to cover him.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was one of those things that was bound to happen this season and it's a good thing. But I know at the end of the game it doesn't really mean much. I'm sure when I'm older I'll appreciate it more." -- QB Adam Weber on setting a school record for career touchdown passes.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Solid play from the linebackers had been the only bright spot from the defense. Gary Tinsley led the Gophers with 10 tackles against USC, including seven solo stops. Keanon Cooper had eight tackles with six solo stops. Tinsley, Cooper and Mike Rallis have been consistent all season.
STILL NEEDS WORK: There's always something. The special teams did a decent job in the first two games, but broke down at the worst possible time against USC. The Gophers took a 14-13 lead in the third quarter. The home crowd was rocking with the possibility that a major upset could actually happen. Just like that, Robert Woods returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and the Gophers never led again. The special teams will get a long look in practice this week.
--WR Connor Cosgrove, son of co-defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, was diagnosed with leukemia last week and began chemotherapy treatments. Cosgrove, a 19-year-old freshman, attended St. Cloud State last year and transferred to Minnesota as a non-scholarship player.
--S Kyle Theret played his first game of the season after serving a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules. He intercepted a pass in the second quarter, the 10th of his career. Theret, Minnesota's free safety, also finished with seven solo tackles.
--S Kim Royston has yet to play in a game this season. The strong safety broke both bones in his left leg in spring ball.
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