Cupito crucial in Big Ten opener

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s football team has little doubt its offensive line is capable of having its best game on any given Saturday.

As the Gophers featured back for the first time of his career, Laurence Maroney has proven that he can handle the added pressure and carries by racking off a best-in-the-nation 160.3 rushing yards per game.

What Gophers fans aren’t sure about is the ability of their quarterback junior Bryan Cupito to carry the team on his back if teams overplay the run. But coach Glen Mason said he isn’t too concerned about Cupito’s progress.

Cupito will face his toughest test of the season Saturday in Minnesota’s (3-0) Big Ten opener against Purdue at the Metrodome. The game begins at 11 a.m.

“I still think that he is an improved quarterback,” Mason said. “Has he played his best game yet? No, but neither have we; as coaches we haven’t coached our best game yet.”

But, while attempting to take pressure off Cupito off the field can, at times, be successful, it won’t work on the field Saturday against the Boilermakers (2-0).

Running the ball could prove to be tough against Purdue, which boasts the top-ranked rushing defense in the country. That means the offensive burden could well fall on Cupito’s much-maligned right shoulder.

Cupito had early success last season in the Gophers nonconference schedule, and continued that success against Northwestern in their Big Ten opener.

Cupito had seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his first four games.

But from that point on, Cupito’s season went downhill, as did the team’s. The Gophers went 3-5 in their last eight games and Cupito’s Big Ten numbers (outside the vacant defense of Northwestern) foundered, completing just 42.7 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

But his teammates have seen a change in him.

“I see a big difference in him this year,” Maroney said. “You can tell he’s more confident. Everyone’s bound to start off a little shaky, but I feel he’s going to step up big for us and do well the rest of the year.”

But for Cupito to have success this season in the Big Ten (because they won’t have the luxury of playing Northwestern), the Gophers will need to force teams like Purdue to play the run and hope they lighten up their coverage.

“I’d anticipate that they would not try to cheat too much because they have a great defensive line,” Cupito said. “So I’m going to anticipate seeing seven in the box to start out and see what happens. Hopefully we’ll make them bring the eighth guy down.”