After two weeks, the jury is still out and the question remains:
Which USC team will show up Saturday in Minnesota?
The Golden Gophers (1-1) have some questions to answer themselves, coming off a 41-38 loss to FCS opponent South Dakota. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster emphasized his team needed to move on and focus on the visiting Trojans.
“It’s a big, physical, athletic football team,” Brewster said on Minnesota’s website. “They’ve got five-star football players across the board on their football team. A great deal of talent.”
The Golden Gophers are led by the nation’s sixth-leading rusher in running back Duane Bennett, who has racked up 291 yards and two touchdowns on 48 carries.
Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber, in his fourth year starting under center, has completed almost 65 percent of his passes and thrown three touchdowns.
“They’re playing really well on offense,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They’re running the ball extremely well, the tailback’s got a ton of yards [and] the quarterback’s rating is great.”
Minnesota does not have as much going on defense (see the 41 points let up by South Dakota). Its defense returns only two starters from last year’s 6-7 squad.
That could open the door for USC’s offense to have a more Hawai’i-type performance. If so, it will start with the running game. Redshirt junior running back Marc Tyler still leads the Pac-10 in rushing with 221 yards and is looking to bounce back after only 67 yards last week.
More action is also expected from freshman running back Dillon Baxter, who made his debut against Virginia, carrying the ball nine times for 49 yards. It will be Baxter’s first road game after missing the Hawai’i game for violating team rules.
“It should be a challenge,” Baxter said. “I guess people have been saying away games are pretty loud so we’ll see what happens.”
USC’s offense also will need more stellar play from sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley.
Despite throwing five touchdowns against Hawai’i, last week might have been Barkley’s more impressive performance considering how often he was forced to elude Virginia’s rush and throw on the run.
The one unquestioned constant from USC’s first two games has been penalties. The Trojans lead the nation in the category, with 24 penalties for 240 yards.
Kiffin said he would not discuss the issue with the media this week in hopes of taking pressure off his players.
Injuries, especially on defense, will also be a concern as the Trojans struggle to stay fresh late into the game.
Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Nick Perry and junior defensive lineman Armond Armstead were limited in practice this week, and it will be a game-time decision as to whether the two play Saturday.
Although the trip to Minnesota marks the Trojans’ second road trip of the year, this weekend marks the last one of this length.
“This is two long trips in a row,” Kiffin said. “It’s good that we’ve done it before and it’s good that we’ve knocked the two long ones out right away.”
The Trojans departed for Minneapolis Thursday after practice. USC has not faced Minnesota since 1980 but has won its last 10 straight contests against Big Ten opponents.