Saturday, September 18, 2010
Postgame thoughts: Minnesota
By Pedro Moura
MINNEAPOLIS -- Notes, quotes and video from USC's 32-21 win over Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium:
It felt like a win to USC coach Lane Kiffin. That's all that matters, right?
In all seriousness, the Trojans looked better against the Golden Gophers, but not that much better. The first-string defense allowed 14 points and looked a lot more punishing than it had in past weeks, especially in defending Minnesota's impressive run game. But the secondary still had some holes at times -- namely on a weird-looking 37-yard pass to MarQueis Gray in the first quarter where Gray didn't have a defender within 15 yards of him upon catching the ball.
Digging a little deeper on defense, we're beginning to see sophomore T.J. McDonald develop into a legitimate playmaker on defense, and, for the second straight week, we saw freshman Nickell Robey make adjustments as the game went on. McDonald had another good game, with seven tackles and a sack, and Robey (five tackles) played Minnesota receiver Da'Jon McKnight fairly well in the second half, even as McKnight gad seven inches and 45 pounds on him.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, in general, did not look great. He was somewhat sharp early on but threw an interception near the end of the first half on an instance of miscommunication with his receiver and made a horribly misguided throw in the third quarter that was picked off easily by Minnesota. Both passes were intended for tight end Rhett Ellison. Of course, Barkley was the victim of a 15-yard facemask penalty in the fourth quarter, after which he did not complete a pass for the rest of the day. Kiffin said Barkley was "kinda out of it, a little bit" after that play, but Barkley downplayed that afterward, saying that his worst in-game injury came not on that hit but on a different one altogether that left him with a Charley horse.
Allen Bradford was fantastic, running the ball 12 times for 131 yards. He looked like a completely different runner than he did in the season opener against Hawaii. In fact, he and Tyler almost seemed to alternate places, with Tyler running bruising and confident against the Warriors and tentative here against the Gophers, and Bradford starting out bad and turning to good. Barkley said the running game as a whole was "on fire" "He's had a rough little start, but he's coming back up," said backfield mate Dillon Baxter, who ran seven times for 24 yards. "I'm glad he got to be in a lot and get that big run; it's good for him. He's a senior and it's his time."
On Baxter, the true freshman said he did not feel like he had an active role in the Trojans' offense this week. After saying multiple times this week that he would be more involved in the offense, he touched the ball only 10 times. He had 11 touches against Virginia. "I'm not going to blame it on the coaches," Baxter said after the game. "I'll take it. I'll take it. I guess I could've broken a couple more tackles, found a way to get in space. So I'll take it."
Minnesota played the game like they were playing not to be embarrassed. It turns out that that was exactly what Gophers head coach Tim Brewster was doing, running the ball play in and play out with the intention of keeping the score close in the hope of a late upset. "I thought the execution of the plan and the patience with the plan was just outstanding," Brewster said after the game. "That's all we were looking for against Southern Cal: a chance to win in the fourth quarter. We had a chance."
Gophers running back DeLeon Eskridge, on the difference of running against USC compared to South Dakota: "I wouldn't say it's too much of a difference. Just size is the difference. But with our line and our offense we try to focus on not caring who's in front of us." Eskridge averaged 4.1 yards per carry in Minnesota' 41-38 loss to South Dakota and 2.4 against the Trojans.
Curiously, the Gophers continued to run the ball all game long, even though they were almost incessantly stopped within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. 37 carries netted a total of only 83 yards, and Minnesota's longest run on the day was a 15-yarder from freshman Donnell Kirkwood. "It was real surprising they kept going to the run, even though they kept getting stuffed," said USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who led the Trojans with nine tackles. "We thought they were gonna go to the air, but, hey -- let them keep running, we'll keep stopping them."
Final notes: Penalties were less of a problem for USC but still a problem, with the Trojans committing seven for 71 yards. Minnesota had only four. ...Attendance at TCF Bank Stadium was announced as 50,442. Kiffin called the two-year-old stadium "awesome" -- not a compliment he doles out daily. He also said it was surprisingly loud, especially on third-down plays ...Sophomore receiver De'Von Flournoy will redshirt this season, Kiffin announced Saturday.
Kiffin was more pleased with this victory than the team's previous two.
After the game, he talked about the need for the team to enjoy this victory more than they had the others -- and he took steps toward doing so, allowing them to sing the USC fight song in the locker room after the game, something he had not initiated after the first two wins of the season.
See what else he had to say in his postgame press conference:
Bradford had been largely overshadowed this season by Tyler and even Baxter, but he broke out in a big way with his performance Saturday. After the game, he said he had no indication he would get more touches against the Gophers than he had earlier this year.
"I didn't wake up this morning knowing that I was gonna get the ball at all," he said. "I just went out there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and practiced hard, prepared well.
"I was ready to play when my name got called."
See what else the redshirt senior said on the field after the game: