Cupito’s arm carries Gophers in 63-21 romp of Toledo

Sophomore quarterback Bryan Cupito went 10-for-12 for 279 yards in his starting debut.

by Ben Goessling

The script, we were told, would go like this: Hand the ball off, don’t make any mistakes and try to look pretty.

And that lasted for all of one series.

The rest of the Gophers’ quarterback Bryan Cupito’s debut looked more like something you’d see from the turn-of-the-century St. Louis Rams – or maybe a video game. The redshirt sophomore completed 10 of 12 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, hanging six first-half scores on Toledo en route to a 63-21 romp.

“I didn’t see that coming at all,” coach Glen Mason said. “His first time playing college football, he was right on the money.”

Cupito entered the season as the biggest question mark on a team, which returned seven starters from the Big Ten’s top offense.

Most figured Cupito’s primary job would be to stay out of the way of running backs Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney – and throw a little bit on the side.

But it became clear Saturday night that Cupito is more than just a warm body. Minnesota’s former quarterback, Asad Abdul-Khaliq, threw for more than 200 yards five times in 13 games last year.

Cupito might not be as athletic as Abdul-Khaliq, but wide receiver Jared Ellerson said Cupito is already a better passer.

“Yeah, I’m going to give it to him, because every pass tonight was on the money,” Ellerson said.

Well, almost every pass.

Cupito’s first throw, intended for tight end Matt Spaeth, was nearly picked off, and his second was a safety-valve screen to Maroney. But after that, it was bombs away.

His next pass, a 47-yard strike to a sprinting Ellerson, put Minnesota on the Rockets’ 9-yard line and set up the Gophers’ first score.

On Minnesota’s next possession, Cupito hooked up with Ellerson again for 40 yards. One drive later, he hit Ernie Wheelwright with a 42-yarder for his first touchdown pass and the Gophers’ third score of the quarter.

Cupito finished the first frame 7-of-8 for 206 yards and a score, and Minnesota led 21-7.

“My first throw – I got kind of nervous on that one. I threw it like a girl,” he said. “But once I got into the game, I felt comfortable, and things went well.”

Early on, Toledo put eight men in the box to stuff Minnesota’s vaunted running attack, but Cupito made that strategy backfire with a handful of well-timed, play-action passes. His second connection with Ellerson came after the Rockets bit on a fake, leaving the receiver in one-on-one coverage with cornerback Jason Flowers.

Mason’s game plan, which relied heavily on run fakes and rollouts to keep pressure off Cupito, worked almost to perfection. The Cincinnati native was not sacked, and remarked that Toledo “touched him maybe once.”

“He was excellent on play action. He had a lot of time,” Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. “We committed to the run, and he did a great job with the ball fakes.”

It wasn’t exactly a win in Michigan Stadium, but on Saturday night, Cupito proved he’s capable of doing some damage on his own.

“I’ve got seniors around me. They can’t wait on a new quarterback,” he said. “I had to come in tonight and prove I could play, and I think I did that.”