Kill Unhappy USC Managed to Dodge Bullet

Don't talk to Jerry Kill about moral victories. Such things don't exist in the eyes of Minnesota's first-year head coach.

So while some may be satisfied that the Gophers gave USC all it could handle in a 19-17 loss, Kill doesn't want to hear about it. He'll only be satisfied when the Gophers win, whether it's against a storied program like USC's or New Mexico State, the opponent in Saturday's home opener.

"It leaves a bitter taste when you feel you should have won, but it is what it is," Kill said. "We'll build from it. We're going to keep working and move the program forward."

Despite trailing 19-3 at halftime, the Gophers didn't flinch as they did several times last season when they finished 3-9. Minnesota held USC scoreless in the second half and scored two touchdowns, on Duane Bennett's run and a pass from freshman quarterback Max Shortell to Brandon Green.

The upset bid ended when Shortell threw an interception late in the game, but Kill, who has driven his players relentlessly since being hired in December, saw some positive things.

"We had some adversity, but they bowed up and got after it," Kill said of his players. They listened. That tells me there's a lot of them that have bought in to what we are trying to get done here."

MarQueis Gray made his much-anticipated debut at quarterback. The converted receiver completed 7-of-12 passes for 94 yards and gained 65 yards on 16 carries.

Gray left the game in the second half due to cramping in his legs and right hand. Shortell, playing in his first college game, came off the bench and completed 7-of-13 passes for 98 yards and a score.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The USC game marked the third straight season Minnesota has opened on the road. The Gophers will open next season at UNLV before hosting the Runnin' Rebels to start the 2013 season.

--Head coach Jerry Kill's all-time record in season openers is 10-8.

--Minnesota hasn't defeated a current member of the Pac-12 Conference since beating Oregon 31-30 in the 2003 Sun Bowl. The Gophers are 25-28 against the Pac-12, with four straight losses.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Malcolm Moulton -- The junior college transfer had a big day in his first Division I game. He led the team with four receptions and 51 yards. Moulton, who played at Fort Scott Community College last season, could be the receiver the Gophers have been looking for to play alongside Da'Jon McKnight.

LOOKING GOOD: After getting pushed all over the field last season, the defense looks like it is making some progress. The Gophers held USC to 67 net yards rushing. The linemen did a solid job holding their ground while the linebackers and defensive backs did well at pursuing the running backs. The Trojans didn't score in the second half.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Kicker Chris Hawthorne, a transfer from North Carolina State, made one of three field goal attempts in his debut with the Gophers. He hit a 21-yarder in the second quarter before missing from 51 and 42 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was disappointed. We had opportunities to win the game and didn't do some of the things early and I take responsibility for that." -- Minnesota coach Jerry Kill on the season-opening loss to USC.

PLAYER NOTES

--S Kim Royston, who missed all of last season with a broken leg, made 11 tackles in his first game since 2009.

--WR Da'Jon McKnight, who led the team in receptions last season, caught four passes for 48 yards.

--WR Marcus Jones also played well in his college debut. The freshman made three catches for 51 yards.

--DB Brock Vereen, a sophomore, led Minnesota with a career-high 12 tackles, including nine solo stops.

--RB Duane Bennett gained 56 yards on 15 carries. He scored the Gophers' first touchdown of the season on a 9-yard run in the third quarter. Bennett's touchdown was the 15th of his career on the ground and the 20th of his career.


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