Gophers fall to USC

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to receives a pass but is blocked by Southern California freshman Nickell Robey Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mark Vancleave

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to receives a pass but is blocked by Southern California freshman Nickell Robey Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

John Hageman

If you left your seat at any point during the third quarter of SaturdayâÄôs game, you may have missed seeing the Gophers with a lead. Just 12 seconds before Robert Woods raced into the endzone on a 97-yard kickoff return, the Gophers had a second-half lead on No. 18 USC, the crowd on their side and maybe most importantly for the upset-minded underdog, momentum. But Woods’ untouched return washed all of that away, and whatever hope the Gophers and their fans had of upsetting the Trojans and erasing the memory of their stunning loss to South Dakota soon followed. âÄúThatâÄôs part of football, thereâÄôs going to be ups and downs,âÄù senior quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúItâÄôs all about fighting through that.âÄù But the Gophers (1-2) couldnâÄôt fight back, falling behind by three scores before scoring a meaningless touchdown in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, ultimately losing 32-21 to the Trojans (3-0) Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers defense halted the potent Trojans offense on their first drive of the game, forcing them to miss a 48-yard field goal wide left. Minnesota then marched down the field and capped off a nine-play, 69-yard drive with a junior DeLeon Eskridge one-yard touchdown run to take the first lead of the game. But USC responded with its own drawn-out drive ending in a touchdown, and after forcing the Gophers to punt, added another touchdown (but failed on the two-point conversion) to take a 13-7 lead. The Gophers took that brief 12-second lead midway through the third quarter with DaâÄôJon McKnight ‘s circus catch on a 31-yard pass from Weber up the left sideline, but didn’t see the lead again after giving up a touchdown on the ensuing kick. âÄúIt picked us up a lot. It helped the team, it was a pretty huge spark,âÄù Woods said of his kickoff return. âÄúAs soon as I hit the hole it was wide open, one on one with me and the kicker and coach Baxter always told me never let the kicker tackle you so I knew I had it then.âÄù Despite the loss, the Gophers made significant strides on defense from their play against South Dakota last week. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who came into the game 12th in the nation in passing efficiency, threw his first two interceptions of the season to the same Gophers,team that gave up 352 yards through the air to a far less-talented South Dakota squad. The return of senior Kyle Theret from suspension aided the Gophers’ young secondary, âÄì Brewster called him a âÄúsettling influenceâÄù âÄì but despite his team-high seven tackles, the Gophers still struggled in both coverage and tackling. After regaining the lead, USC turned to its three-headed monster of a running game, led by a bruising Allen Bradford, who rushed for 99 of his 131 yards in the second half. âÄúThey certainly leaned on us in the second half in the run game, there’s no question about that,âÄù Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúWe’ve just have to do a better jobâĦWe’ve got to be able to stop the run; that’s the whole key for us, that’s the premise in which we live by defensively is stop the run.âÄù While USC was seemingly running at will in the second half, the Gophers struggled to do the same. The team talked all week about its running-heavy game plan, and though they certainly stuck to it, the beefy USC defensive line held them to an average of just 2.2 yards per run. Back-to-back touchdown drives to start the fourth quarter all but sealed it for the Trojans, the final nail in the coffin being a 56-yard untouched run by Bradford into the endzone. The Gophers knew they couldnâÄôt let the pass beat them again, but it ended up being the rushing game that was their downfall. âÄúWe knew we had to stop the run; that was our first main objective,âÄù Theret said. âÄúTowards the end of the game, they kept running on us. And thatâÄôs when we have to get stops. We canâÄôt let that happen.âÄù The Gophers saw the game with USC, their most highly-touted nonconference matchup in years, as an opportunity to potentially change the course of their season. But now they will turn to Northern Illinois as chance not only to turn the season around, but also just to give the home fans something to cheer about. âÄúWe want to win very much and weâÄôre working very hard to win,âÄù Theret said. âÄúAs long as we keep getting better each week, the wins are going to start coming our way.âÄù Related: – Kiffin so-so on USC’s performanceNotebook: USC continues with costly penaltiesLive game blogPre-game blogFrom USD to USC (preview) – Gophers battered, but looking to bury ugly loss and focus on USC