From USD to USC

John Hageman

USC. Not USD. ThatâÄôs what many predicted would be the GophersâÄô first home defeat of the season, but last SaturdayâÄôs 41-38 stunning loss against South Dakota has left many unanswered questions for the Gophers. If South Dakota, a middle-of-the road FCS team, was capable of racking up 352 yards through the air seemingly at will against the GophersâÄô young and inexperienced secondary, what will a top-tier squad like No. 18 Southern California do? The difference could lie partially in senior Kyle Theret, who might be more eager than anyone to wash away the memory of that loss âÄî and he wasnâÄôt even there. Theret will start at free safety Saturday against USC, back from a suspension over drunk-driving charges that kept him out of the first two games. Although Theret didnâÄôt speculate that the outcome wouldâÄôve been different with him on the field against the Coyotes, he felt guilty not being there for his teammates in their time of need. âÄúIt makes things a lot harder for me knowing that I hurt my defense and couldnâÄôt help them in that situation,âÄù Theret said. âÄúI donâÄôt know [if things would have been different], IâÄôd hope so, but I want to be fair to my teammates.âÄù The GophersâÄô secondary should benefit from TheretâÄôs experience, something they lacked when coverage consistently broke down against South Dakota. âÄúWe were out of position a lot of times coverage wise,âÄù Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said. âÄúOur inexperience in the middle of the field showed up. It was great to be able to sit down with those guys and go through it with a fine tooth comb and go out on Sunday and make the corrections we felt like we needed to make.âÄù Theret is one of two returning starters on defense this season, the other being senior Kim Royston , who will sit out of SaturdayâÄôs game while he continues to recover from a broken leg. But TheretâÄôs return may not be enough to stop the TrojansâÄô passing attack. USC sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley is 12th in the nation in passing efficiency, tallying 459 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 65.5 percent of his passes against respectable nonconference foes Hawaii and Virginia. The Trojans also average 186.5 yards per game on the ground. South Dakota quarterback Dante Warren was able to both run and pass effectively against the Gophers, getting outside of the pocket and finding open receivers downfield, while still being a threat to run for big gains. Barkley will likely be less elusive and try to beat the Gophers from the pocket. But even if the defense is miles ahead of where they were against South Dakota, itâÄôs not far-fetched to expect the same kind of production out of the more-talented Trojans, who Brewster compared to Ohio State in athletic ability and size. That would put the burden on the offense to keep the Gophers in the game. Brewster estimated that the offense left 21 points on the field in missed opportunities against the Coyotes, including a first-and-10 from the CoyotesâÄô 16, a missed field goal and two Adam Weber fumbles in USD territory. The Gophers will need to convert on every chance they get to put points on the board Saturday, preferably in increments of seven and not three. âÄúWe still got to finish drives,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúThe disappointment in not scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the game and having to kick a field goal âĦ there are a lot of correctable things that we could fix from that game.âÄù If the Gophers are to correct the mistakes and turn their season around, SaturdayâÄôs game would be a ripe opportunity, especially with recent scandal and a coaching change leaving USC, arguably, at its most vulnerable in years. Senior quarterback Adam Weber understands the importance of the game for that reason. Not only is USC the most challenging and prestigious nonconference foe Minnesota has faced in his career, a win would go a long way in defining the teamâÄôs season in a positive way and erasing the memory of last weekend. âÄúWhen coach Brewster got that game on our schedule, people were saying, âÄòWhat is he doing?âÄô But IâÄôm all for it.âÄù Weber said. âÄúItâÄôll be a tough challenge, but thatâÄôs what gives us hope that on Saturday by about six oâÄôclock, weâÄôll be celebrating a big win, and then we can put this all behind us.âÄù