Cupito continues efficient play

Quarterback Bryan Cupito was 8-of-13 for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Matt Perkins

Once again, Minnesota’s football team rushed for more than 300 yards on their way to a victory over Michigan State on Saturday.

But the key to the game may have been the passing game that saw quarterback Bryan Cupito complete eight of 13 passes for two touchdowns.

Again, thanks to a lot of help from the running game.

Success on the ground has meant success through the air for Minnesota this season, as Cupito has been able to find his open targets via the play-action pass.

The Gophers were up 7-3 early in the second quarter when Cupito faked a handoff to Gary Russell and found tight end Matt Spaeth in the end zone for a 7-yard score.

“It’s a play-action pass,” Spaeth said. “It works really well once you get the run established. So we had the run going, and it’s just kind of a trick ’em play, and it worked.”

Minnesota was only up 21-3 late in the third, so they called on Cupito again to lead the team down field.

He answered with a 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took over seven minutes off the clock ” led for the most part by third-string running back Amir Pinnix, who had 10 carries for 60 yards on the drive.

The drive was capped by a 20-yard touchdown strike from Cupito to wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright in the corner of the end zone to push the Gophers lead to 28-3 with just 3:09 left in the third.

“It was huge, because that kind of put them down. This game is pretty much over,” Cupito said. “But we’ve got to have more drives like that, more consistency like that, and that’s something we did real good today.”

Pinnix’s success on the ground forced the Spartans to play single coverage on the outside to give them an extra man in the box.

But this season Minnesota has been able to burn opponents when they come with such a strategy.

Last year Cupito was the Gophers’ starter from day one, making his first career start against Toledo, completing 10 of 12 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown.

From there he had a solid start to his career. Through week four against Northwestern, Cupito had seven touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 58 percent of his passes.

But the competition stiffened, and the tough Big Ten schedule got to him.

Cupito ended the season with 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and a dismal 47 percent completion rate.

This season has marked a turnaround in Cupito’s play and numbers (59.2 percent completion rate), as he turned last year’s experience into this season’s confidence.

And it hasn’t hurt to have an offensive line that has allowed only three sacks through 10 games.

“We just have a great scheme and our coaches really prepare well for every team,” said offensive guard Mark Setterstrom.

But confidence is the key, according to Cupito, heading into a game on the road at Iowa, a team they haven’t beat since 2000.

“I remember last year coming into the Iowa game: Last game, we just lost to Wisconsin, we were real down,” Cupito said. “This year, we’re real confident we can play with them and get the win, but they’re a great team. And we haven’t beat them since I’ve been here.”