2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - Minnesota at USC
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Sept. 3 at USC 19 … Minnesota 17
CFN Analysis: Robert Woods, Robert Woods, Robert Woods. That’s all that worked for the USC offense against Minnesota with Woods catching 17 passes for 177 yards and three scores. The Marc Tyler-less running game did next to nothing averaging a pathetic 2.4 yards per carry, and the offensive line failed to generate enough of a push against the active Gopher defensive front. Unlike last year in several key games, the defense came up with the stop it needed in the end, but it wasn’t a great performance with the pass rush needing to be far more effective against Utah next week. Offensively, the two fourth down plays were a disaster, with a bad snap leading to a score, but with Matt Barkley and Woods coming up with big games, the Trojans were able to get out alive.
Minnesota needed a big day from MarQueis Gray and didn’t get it. Before getting banged up, he only completed 7-of-12 passes for 95 yards and ran for just 47 yards on 16 carries. Now the quarterback controversy will come with Max Shortell likely to get plenty of consideration for more time after doing a great job in relief, completing 7-of-13 passes for 98 yards and a score. Yes he threw the game-sealing interception, but he had to force the ball down the field to try to make something happen. The Gopher defense looked fast and athletic, doing a great job of getting around the ball against the USC ground game, and while it couldn’t figure out how to stop Robert Woods, it was a positive performance.
LOS ANGELES -- Robert Woods caught a school-record 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 25 Southern California hung on to spoil Jerry Kill's coaching debut for Minnesota in a 19-17 victory Saturday.
Matt Barkley completed a school-record 34 passes for 304 yards for the Trojans, who still couldn't score in the second half of their 14th consecutive season-opening victory.
Freshman quarterback Max Shortell came off the Gophers' bench in the fourth quarter and threw a 12-yard TD pass to Brandon Green with 8:03 to play, but Torin Harris intercepted his pass near midfield with 53 seconds to play.
Until USC's offense sputtered and collapsed in the second half, the Trojans opened their second season under coach Lane Kiffin with a display of dazzling aerial chemistry between Barkley and Woods, the sophomore receiver with sticky hands and burning speed -- and now a place among the great receivers in Trojans history.
Woods tied the school record first set by Johnnie Morton with his 15th catch late in the third quarter, and he surpassed it early in the fourth. But the rest of USC's offense sputtered, with an inexperienced offensive line struggling to establish a running game.
Barkley, who went 34 for 45, surpassed Todd Marinovich's 1989 record for completions in the fourth quarter.
Although freshman tailback D.J. Morgan rushed for 70 yards, not much worked consistently for the Trojans beyond Woods. After Green's score for Minnesota, the Trojans converted two long third-down plays on their ensuing drive before a punt left Minnesota at its own 9 with 2:04 to play.
MarQueis Gray passed for 94 yards and rushed for 48 more in his first collegiate start at quarterback for the Gophers. Kill, who left Northern Illinois to take over a program with just one winning season in its last five, likely was more impressed by Shortell, who backed up his impressive camp with a 7-for-13 performance for 98 yards in the fourth quarter.
Duane Bennett rushed for 53 yards and a score for Minnesota, which hadn't visited the Coliseum since 1979 and hasn't won a game in California since 1964. Minnesota already knew all about the perils of Woods, who returned a kick for a touchdown in the Trojans' win at Minneapolis last year.
After catching passes for most of his first two seasons at Minnesota, Gray took over the Gophers' offense this year, starting his first game at quarterback since 2007 at his Indianapolis high school. Gray's debut wasn't exactly a stunner, featuring missed receivers and few impressive runs.
USC opened with a deliberate 13-play scoring drive capped by a beautiful fade pass to Woods, who achieved his goal of seeing himself score on the Coliseum's new 6,000-square-foot video board. He did it again early in the second quarter, hauling in a 43-yard throw in the end zone with a Minnesota defensive back draped all over him.
The Trojans failed on 2-point conversion attempts after both of their first two scores. Kiffin went back to the old-fashioned single-point kick after Woods' third TD catch, a quick 2-yard grab 49 seconds before halftime to cap another steady drive.
When USC headed to the locker room with a 19-3 halftime lead, Kill gathered the Gophers around him on the sideline for a few pointed words before they went up the tunnel. Minnesota came out stronger in the second half, stopping USC's opening drive with a 32-yard loss when a fourth-down snap sailed over Barkley's head, followed by a quick Gophers drive ending with Bennett's 9-yard TD run.
Barkley completed 16 straight passes before tight end Xavier Grimble dropped a throw in the third quarter. Grimble was among three freshmen starting at offensive skill positions for the Trojans, joining Morgan and receiver Marqise Lee, who went to high school with Woods in nearby Gardena, Calif.
Minnesota (0-0) at USC (0-0) Sept. 3, 3:30 ABC and ESPN2 and ESPN3
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Here’s The Deal … Minnesota is returning the favor after hosting the Trojans in the bright, shiny TCF Bank Stadium last year. The Gophers hung around in a 32-21 loss, showing more heart than it did in the loss to South Dakota the previous week, and that was about it for the fun until mid-November with a nine-game losing streak pushing Tim Brewster out the door. Enter Jerry Kill, who recreated Northern Illinois and made it a MAC power and now brings his terrific offensive mind to the Gophers as he tries to jump-start a sleepy program with a fan base that’ll go crazy with a little bit of success. However, going to USC, even against a wounded USC, is no way to kick off an era.
There’s no pressure on Kill right away to come up with big things, but if USC doesn’t start off the season with an impressive blowout, the panic sirens will go off. Everyone understands that the program is now feeling the full effects of the NCAA sanctions, and it’s understood that it’s going to be a while before things have a chance to get back to normal, but after struggling in the season-ending loss to UCLA and after losing to Oregon State and Notre Dame in ugly fashion – albeit in very different ways, with a blowout against the Beavers and dropped passes against the Irish – a big performance right out of the gate is a must. Pac-12 play kicks off the week after against Utah, and while USC might not be USC again, this is the week to show that things haven’t dropped off too much.
Why Minnesota Might Win: Will USC quit? It’s a harsh suggestion that the Trojans gave up last year, and they showed fight at time when there was really nothing to play for, but considering they had as much talent as anyone in the conference, they were way too flaky. Consistency and focus wasn’t always a plus at USC even with it ruled the world under Pete Carroll, and now all the pressure in the world is on the team to start out well even with all the allowable excuses. If things go badly early on, will the Trojans have the ability to handle the adversity? It didn’t happen last year in tight situations, and Minnesota is just good enough on both sides of the ball to hang around, hang around, hang around, and then wait for the one big break. The Gophers have a good enough receiving corps to take advantage of a secondary that has talent, but didn’t produce nearly as well as it should’ve.
Why USC Might Win: Can the Minnesota offensive line give the skill players time to work? Line play was the key to Kill’s Northern Illinois teams, but he has to revamp a front five that only gets two starters back from a line that was great in pass protection, but didn’t do enough for the running game. The USC defensive line might be the team’s biggest strength and it should be able to gum up the works against the Gopher running game. Meanwhile, Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense should get all the time in the world against a Minnesota defensive front that isn’t going to get into the backfield. The Minnesota secondary will be good, but it’s not going to get a ton of help from the front seven and Barkley - who came up with an averaged 17-of-26, 192-yard, two touchdown, two pick day in last year’s wins over the Gophers – should put up huge numbers.
What To Watch Out For: Minnesota might have the biggest X factor in the game in MarQueis Gray, who has gone through a rocky road to become the starting quarterback. One the nation’s top dual-threat spread quarterbacks coming out of high school, first he wasn’t eligible, then the offense changed from the spread, and then he was moved to wide receiver for a stretch. The 6-4, 229-pound junior has tremendous athleticism, a live arm, and the talent and ability to have been an Elite 11 Quarterback camper in high school. After missing his senior year of high school with a broken arm, several schools soured on him, Minnesota kept calling, and now he might be the franchise. It’s a huge, huge reach to call him a possible Cam Newton, but he has the same athleticism, great size, and he’s in the right offense to work his skills.
This could be his national coming out party.
What Will Happen: Minnesota won't look like the Minnesota of
old, but it still won't be enough. The Gopher
defense will be plucky early on and will keep the
game within reach, and then the USC lines will take
over and then the game will start to get out of
hand. The USC ground game will be fine, but it'll be
Barkley who puts up the big numbers as he hits on
third down play after third down play to keep the
Trojans in control. Gray will look great at times,
but he'll try to do too much forcing two costly
CFN Prediction: USC 38 ... Minnesota 21
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USC -21 O/U: 51
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