All Cylinders Firing?

The Gophers appear ready for their Big Ten opener against Northwestern, with a ground game that is second in the nation and a quarterback that appears to be OK after a head injury last weekend.

After a less-than-stellar effort in the second game of the season against Illinois State, Minnesota has all systems on track following their 34-16 win at Colorado State.

As a result, the Gophers should be primed for a sensational effort in their Big Ten opener vs. Northwestern. Head coach Glen Mason said at the Big Ten preseason luncheon that this is the best Minnesota team he has coached, so it would be disappointing if it was not ready for the conference opener.

In addition to the outstanding running of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, the Gophers are getting key contributions from QB Bryan Cupito. In the win over Colorado State, Cupito took a shot in the head in the third quarter and did not return. It appeared that the injury could have been a concussion, but Mason said it's not serious and he was kept out of the game for precautionary reasons.

Minnesota has become something of a juggernaut in its non-conference games. The Gophers extended their non-conference winning streak to 15, equaling the school record set from Sept. 30, 1944, through Sept. 30, 1950. It's also the longest current non-conference winning streak in the Big Ten.

Colorado State could not cope with the Gopher ground game. Barber finished with career highs in carries (31) and rushing yards (201) and scored two rushing touchdowns. His second touchdown, a 61-yard run in the first quarter, was the longest of his career, and it came as a result of a great move. Barber broke a tackle at the line, put his hand on the ground to keep his balance and sprinted to the end zone. Maroney also had a big game with 132 rushing yards, including 49 on the opening drive.

Northwestern would not appear to have the defensive prowess to stop or even slow down the Gophers. Randy Walker thought the Wildcat defense would be a strength before the start of the season, but an early injury to outstanding DE Loren Howard has robbed this team of much of its ability and its confidence.

Look for the Gophers to send a message to the rest of the Big Ten in this game.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: After a substandard effort against Illinois State, the Gophers were all business against Colorado State and the attitude adjustment was obvious in a 34-16 road victory. The Gophers had 504 total yards and were able to pound the ball at will. Look for Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber to take turns battering the Northwestern defense. Minnesota leads the Big Ten with an average of 359.1 yards per game (second in the nation) on the ground.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers don't have the same kind of talent on the defensive side of the ball that they do on offense, but they came up with four takeaways against Colorado State. They are very vulnerable through the air. Minnesota is giving up 327.3 passing yards per game, which is the worst mark in the Big Ten.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't play perfect by any means. But this is something we can definitely build on. It's a good way to go into the Big Ten season." — Gopher center Greg Eslinger on the Gopher performance in the 34-16 win over Colorado State.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Minnesota, Sept. 25 — The Gophers appear to have the horses to compete for the Big Ten title, and they surely have the power to beat Northwestern in the opener. Last year, Minnesota trailed Northwestern 14-0 in the first quarter and went on to a 42-17 victory in Evanston. The Wildcats should play with a great effort, but it may not be enough to keep them in the game in the second half.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Laurence Maroney — He had a nice game with 132 yards against Colorado State. However, Marion Barber was the bigger star with 201 rushing yards and two touchdowns, so this may be Maroney's game to be the lead dog.

DT Anthony Montgomery — The massive 300-pound tackle is in the lineup to stop the interior run, but Montgomery came up with the first interception of his career in the win over Colorado State. Montgomery is tough, powerful and very alert.

ROSTER REPORT: QB Bryan Cupito took a shot to the head in the win over Colorado State in the third quarter and did not return to the game. However, the injury does not appear to be serious and he should be in the starting lineup in the Big Ten opener vs. Northwestern.

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