Gophers torpedo Toledo

Minnesota won its opener 63-21, gaining the second-most yards in team history.

Dan Miller

On Sept. 19, 1904, Minnesota’s football team scored 107 points against Twin Cities Central High School in its highest scoring home opener ever.

The currently 25th-ranked Gophers fell short of that school record Saturday in a 63-21 thrashing of Toledo at the Metrodome. But – with 704 yards in total offense – they made the Rockets look like high school students.

The Mid-American Conference favorite Rockets returned most of their starting offense and were ranked 25th in the preseason coaches’ poll. But it was the Gophers who came out with a bang in their nationally televised opener, turning a projected close game into an embarrassment.

“I really thought the game was going to be closer,” Minnesota sophomore running back Laurence Maroney said.

The question arises whether the Gophers’ dominant performance was indicative of their superiority or Toledo’s failure. Minnesota coach Glen Mason answered neither.

“We’re not as good as the outcome, and they’re not as bad as the outcome,” he said. “There’s a lot of football left to be played.”

In any case, one of the few question marks surrounding Minnesota’s offense was answered in a big way Saturday. New quarterback Bryan Cupito was nearly perfect in his debut first half.

Cupito completed 10 of 12 passes for 279 yards and threw his first Gopher touchdown pass. He led Minnesota to a 42-7 advantage after two quarters, and was replaced by backup Adam Ernst late in the third quarter with a 56-7 lead.

“(Cupito) really took control out there,” said Gophers’ junior wide receiver Jared Ellerson, who caught four passes for 140 yards. “He’s what made everything run and everything click.”

Minnesota running backs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III met high expectations, scoring a combined four touchdowns before sitting the entire second half.

Maroney led the rushing attack with 14 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Barber ran for 78 yards and two scores, also touching the ball 14 times.

Redshirt freshman Amir Pinnix and true freshman Gary Russell rushed for a combined 167 yards as the Gophers pounded Toledo’s run defense that lacked suspended linebacker Brock Dodrill, who led the Rockets in solo tackles last season.

Toledo coach Tom Amstutz acknowledged the potency of the Gophers offense after his team allowed Minnesota its second-highest total yardage in school history and scored the highest single-half point total ever allowed by the Rockets.

“No doubt they are a top-25 team,” Amstutz said. “They have done that to more than one team … They are for real.”

The Gophers’ offense sputtered only on its first series. Kicker Rhys Lloyd faked a punt on fourth down to pick up a first down, and the Gophers went four more plays to score on fullback Justin Valentine’s 1-yard touchdown run.

Toledo came back strong ,scoring on eight plays in 2:33 ending with a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to the Rockets’ star receiver, Lance Moore.

But Minnesota’s defense tightened by getting pressure on Gradkowski and held the Toledo offense to seven points well into the fourth quarter.

The Rockets scored 14 points in the final 8:48 on a 56-yard Marques Council-to-Pete Lepley touchdown pass and a Quinton Broussard 14-yard touchdown run.

But the two late scores on Minnesota’s second team defense only served to make the 63-21 final appear closer than the game actually was.

“We talked a lot and told everybody what we were going to do, and now it’s time to come out and do it,” Maroney said.