LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Woods caught a school-record 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 25 Southern California hung on to spoil Jerry Kill’s coaching debut for Minnesota in a 19-17 victory Saturday.
Matt Barkley completed a school-record 34 passes for 304 yards for the Trojans, who still couldn’t score in the second half of their 14th consecutive season-opening victory.
Freshman quarterback Max Shortell came off the Gophers’ bench in the fourth quarter and threw a 12-yard TD pass to Brandon Green with 8:03 to play, but Torin Harris intercepted his pass near midfield with 53 seconds to play.
Until USC’s offense sputtered and collapsed in the second half, the Trojans opened their second season under coach Lane Kiffin with a display of dazzling aerial chemistry between Barkley and Woods, the sophomore receiver with sticky hands and burning speed — and now a place among the great receivers in Trojans history.
Woods tied the school record first set by Johnnie Morton with his 15th catch late in the third quarter, and he surpassed it early in the fourth. But the rest of USC’s offense sputtered, with an inexperienced offensive line struggling to establish a running game.
Barkley, who went 34 for 45, surpassed Todd Marinovich’s 1989 record for completions in the fourth quarter.
Although freshman tailback D.J. Morgan rushed for 70 yards, not much worked consistently for the Trojans beyond Woods. After Green’s score for Minnesota, the Trojans converted two long third-down plays on their ensuing drive before a punt left Minnesota at its own 9 with 2:04 to play.
MarQueis Gray passed for 94 yards and rushed for 48 more in his first collegiate start at quarterback for the Gophers. Kill, who left Northern Illinois to take over a program with just one winning season in its last five, likely was more impressed by Shortell, who backed up his impressive camp with a 7-for-13 performance for 98 yards in the fourth quarter.
Duane Bennett rushed for 53 yards and a score for Minnesota, which hadn’t visited the Coliseum since 1979 and hasn’t won a game in California since 1964. Minnesota already knew all about the perils of Woods, who returned a kick for a touchdown in the Trojans’ win at Minneapolis last year.
After catching passes for most of his first two seasons at Minnesota, Gray took over the Gophers’ offense this year, starting his first game at quarterback since 2007 at his Indianapolis high school. Gray’s debut wasn’t exactly a stunner, featuring missed receivers and few impressive runs.
USC opened with a deliberate 13-play scoring drive capped by a beautiful fade pass to Woods, who achieved his goal of seeing himself score on the Coliseum’s new 6,000-square-foot video board. He did it again early in the second quarter, hauling in a 43-yard throw in the end zone with a Minnesota defensive back draped all over him.
The Trojans failed on 2-point conversion attempts after both of their first two scores. Kiffin went back to the old-fashioned single-point kick after Woods’ third TD catch, a quick 2-yard grab 49 seconds before halftime to cap another steady drive.
When USC headed to the locker room with a 19-3 halftime lead, Kill gathered the Gophers around him on the sideline for a few pointed words before they went up the tunnel. Minnesota came out stronger in the second half, stopping USC’s opening drive with a 32-yard loss when a fourth-down snap sailed over Barkley’s head, followed by a quick Gophers drive ending with Bennett’s 9-yard TD run.
Barkley completed 16 straight passes before tight end Xavier Grimble dropped a throw in the third quarter. Grimble was among three freshmen starting at offensive skill positions for the Trojans, joining Morgan and receiver Marqise Lee, who went to high school with Woods in nearby Gardena, Calif.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)