GAME NOTES: The 18th-ranked USC Trojans pay a visit to the Twin Cities for the first time in 30 years, as they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in non- conference play at TCF Bank Stadium.
This is the seventh all-time meeting between the two programs, but the first since the Trojans claimed a 24-7 victory at Minnesota in 1980. Overall, USC leads the all-time series 4-1-1 and has won the last three encounters with Minnesota.
The Trojans enter the contest undefeated under new head coach Lane Kiffin, who came over following a one-year stint at Tennessee. Kiffin, who spent six seasons (2001-2006) as an assistant at USC under Pete Carroll, made his home head coaching debut this past weekend in a less than stellar 17-14 victory over Virginia.
"This is probably the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've ever been in, which is good. Our players understand the standards we want to have here. We expect to play better than that," Kiffin said.
Still, it was the 18th consecutive non-conference win for USC, which opened the campaign with a 49-36 triumph at Hawaii.
As for the Gophers, they come into the game with less confidence following a shocking 41-38 home loss to South Dakota, a FCS program, last weekend.
"As I just told the team, the depth of my disappointment right now, you cannot measure it," stated head coach Tim Brewster. "I do not want to discredit South Dakota in any way. I want to make sure we give them the proper credit but it certainly is an unacceptable loss on our part by our team."
The loss got a four-game homestand started off on the wrong foot and was surprising following a 24-17 victory against a solid Middle Tennessee club on the road to begin the season.
The Trojans were sloppy and out of sync in their home opener this past weekend, as they managed only 17 points and suffered 13 penalties for 150 yards. The offense gained a modest 329 total yards, well off the 524 yards gained versus Hawaii in the opener. QB Matt Barkley threw for 202 yards and a pair of scores in the win, but it was far less impressive then his five-TD performance in the opener. Ronald Johnson, who had four total scores against Hawaii, wasn't much of a factor last weekend, catching five passes for 58 yards. The ground attack didn't play a big part either, posting just 127 yards after gaining 246 in the opener.
USC's defense mostly kept Virginia in check this past weekend, yielding just 340 total yards. That was a big improvement after Hawaii torched the Trojans for 588 total yards. Virginia converted just 17-of-36 pass attempts and only 4-of-15 third downs against USC, which came up with a pair of sacks as well. The defense however, has forced just one turnover through the first two games and that is an area in need of improvement going forward. T.J. McDonald headed the defense last weekend with 14 tackles and an INT, while Wes Horton tallied a sack for the second time in as many games.
The Gophers got off to a slow start last weekend and simply could not overcome South Dakota in a 41-38 loss. Minnesota, which trailed by as many as 18 points, did show good balance between the run (204 yards) and pass (258) in the setback. Despite losing a pair of fumbles, QB Adam Weber had a nice game, completing 21-of-31 tosses for 258 yards and three TDs. It was a nice bounce back for Weber, who wasn't all that impressive in the opener with 150 yards passing and no scores. TB Duane Bennett is another weapon for this offense and he has cracked the century mark in each of the first two games. After going for 187 yards in the first game, Bennett rushed for 104 yards and a pair of TDs this past weekend.
Defensively, the Gophers were exploited in the loss to South Dakota, which had six total TDs with an even split between run and pass. South Dakota did most of its damage through the air, passing for 352 yards on an efficient 21-of-30 tosses. Minnesota came up with two picks, but simply couldn't slow down South Dakota on a consistent basis. It was a far different story in the opener when the Gophers gave up just 318 total yards, while the defense spent less than 15 minutes on the field. Mike Rallis led the defense with 7.5 tackles and his second INT of the season in last weekend's loss.
USC hasn't been all that impressive, but its hard to expect Minnesota to pull off the upset after it just lost at home to a FCS program. Expect the Trojans to come out on top, although it may not be pretty again.