Rams can’t break Gophers’ stride

Minnesota got 201 yards from Marion Barber III and 135 from Maroney.

Dan Miller

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State knew exactly what Minnesota’s football team was going to do long before the team arrived at mountain-embedded Hughes Stadium.

But the Rams (0-3), who join a quickly growing group of frustrated defenses, couldn’t do anything to stop running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, falling 34-16 in front of 33,501.

On the opening drive of the game, the 22nd-ranked Gophers (3-0) ran the ball five straight times, capped by a 19-yard Barber touchdown sprint.

The focused and determined Gophers’ running game ran Barber 31 times in the game while he racked up 201 yards and two touchdowns.

And, oh yeah, Maroney added 135 yards on 17 carries.

“I knew they were going to play extremely hard so we took control of the game early,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.

By halftime, Barber already had 146 yards and two touchdowns, and Maroney had 99 yards on only 11 carries.

But Minnesota’s offense did take a hit near the end of the third quarter.

Quarterback Bryan Cupito was helped off the field after being knocked down by the Rams’ Patrick Goodpaster. Cupito didn’t return to the game.

Before the injury, Cupito was able to lead the Gophers offense out of its nonconference schedule with three straight games of 500 yards or more in total offense.

Minnesota has now won 15-straight nonconference games, which ties a school record and is the longest current streak in the Big Ten.

Minnesota’s defense, which struggled against Division I-AA Illinois State on Sept. 11, gave up 400-plus yards for the second straight game but was able to make key plays.

The Gophers forced four turnovers while they recorded three interceptions for the first time since the Music City Bowl in 2002.

It appeared early that the Rams might give Minnesota’s defense problems as the Gophers allowed more rushing yards in the first quarter than the Rams had gained in their first two games combined.

But interceptions from cornerback Trumaine Banks and defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery led to two scores in the first half, helping the Gophers to a 24-10 halftime lead.

The Rams said before the game Saturday that they were in “must-win” mode and couldn’t afford a third straight loss.

But after the game, despite the Rams’ first 0-3 start since 1992, coach Sonny Lubick said he isn’t worried about the Rams’ season.

“The older (players) are not going to let this team go downhill,” Lubick said. “We knew before the season the hell we got ourselves into.”

After last Saturday’s lackluster performance, Laurence Maroney said, the Gophers prepared intensely for the game in Fort Collins.

“Colorado State said it was a must-win for them. We felt it was a must-win for us,” Maroney said.

The Gophers, meanwhile, trot into the Big Ten season with a good feeling in their collective gut.

“We have our offense and defense going, so we feel real confident going in (to the Big Ten season),” cornerback Ukee Dozier said.

Not appearing to feel the altitude, Barber broke through the Rams’ defense for a 61-yard touchdown run to push the Gophers lead to 14-3 late in the first quarter.

Tight end Matt Spaeth caught the first of his two touchdown passes with 4:06 left in the half to put the Gophers up 24-3.

Colorado State responded with an eight-play drive capped by a Justin Holland 26-yard pass to Dustin Osborn in the closing minutes of the first half.

The Rams cut the lead to 31-16 with four seconds remaining in the third quarter on a Jeff Babcock 27-yard field goal.

But Minnesota put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, marching 34 yards in five plays, capped by a Rhys Lloyd 18-yard field goal.