9:00 PM ET, September 4, 2004
9:00 PM ET, September 4, 2004
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Bryan Cupito's first college start was a rousing success, the dominant running game returned and Minnesota began a promising season with an unexpectedly lopsided victory.
Cupito was 10-for-12 for 279 yards and a touchdown, Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney picked up where they left off and the (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) Gophers beat Toledo 63-21 on Saturday night.
"To tell you the truth, I really didn't think we were going to have a game like this," Maroney said.
Barber and Maroney, looking to become the first tandem in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards each in consecutive seasons, scored two TDs apiece before halftime to help Minnesota build a 42-7 lead.
The Gophers finished with 704 total yards, the second most in school history. The record is 742, set in 1982 against Ohio.
"I always hoped for the best," Cupito said. "I got touched maybe one time, so the offensive line did an unbelievable job. The receivers were open, and we had a great run game."
Barber (78 yards) and Maroney (108 yards) carried 14 times each and didn't play in the second half with the game already well out of hand -- the Gophers having shown their backfield should be just as potent as it was when they finished third in the nation in rushing last year.
Jared Ellerson had four receptions for 140 yards, and true freshman Ernie Wheelwright caught two touchdown passes for Minnesota.
Cupito, the sophomore replacement for four-year starter Asad Abdul-Khaliq, exhibited an accurate touch and pocket poise that his athletic predecessor didn't show consistently.
"Coop really took control out there," Ellerson said. "I really think our balanced offense is going to have people scared, because they're not going to know what to do."
The Rockets, though, provided little resistance while opening their season on a sour note. They established no pass rush and let Minnesota do just about whatever it wanted with the ball. The Gophers faced fourth down twice in the first half, and punter Rhys Lloyd ran for first downs both times -- the first on a fake and the second after a bobbled snap.
"I watched film and lost a lot of sleep all summer long, watching them run the ball against Michigan and a lot of other good teams," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said.
Toledo, which received 33 votes in the AP's preseason poll and was the Mid-American Conference media's pick to win the league, returns 14 starters from last year's team that went 8-4.
Gradkowski completed 71.2 percent of his passes last season, Moore led the nation with 103 receptions and the Rockets beat two Top 25 teams -- Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois. And they routed Minnesota 38-7 in 2001, so it's not as though the Gophers were expecting an easy time.
Gradkowski rolled right and threw across his body to a wide-open Moore for a 25-yard touchdown on their first drive, an eight-play, 86-yard march that suggested the Gophers' retooled defense would have its hands full with Toledo's quick-hit, spread offense.
That wasn't the case. Trinity Dawson, who ran for 999 yards last season, was held to 27 yards on six carries -- extending Minnesota's streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher to 15 games.
"All we can do is learn from this," Moore said.
The Gophers, 10-3 last year, have Rose Bowl hopes with a favorable schedule that doesn't include Ohio State and Purdue. Minnesota has seven starters back on an offense that averaged 38.7 points in 2003.
"They're so worried about the run game -- and they have to -- it opened everything up," Cupito said.
Wheelwright had with the play of the game early in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a 10-yard pass from Adam Ernst with one hand in the corner of the end zone after reaching over defender Billy Relford to put the Gophers up 63-7.
"That offensive performance today -- I didn't see it coming at all," coach Glen Mason said.
Instant replay was available for the officials, thanks to an experimental rule change this year in the Big Ten, but it wasn't used.