Minnesota's Ernie Wheelwright slips by Toledo defender Antonio Malone on his way to a 42-yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Bryan Cupito. The Gophers had 704 total yards.
JIM MONE / AP Enlarge
MINNEAPOLIS - It was an obvious case of highly mistaken identity. The University of Toledo came into the Metrodome last night, fully prepared to face a team committed to running the football.
Minnesota, with the top rushing attack in the Big Ten from last year and a pair of 1,000-yard running backs playing behind an inexperienced quarterback, was supposed to keep it basic and conservative.
But before the first half had ended, the Golden Gophers had pulled off two fake punts and smoked the Rocket secondary through the air and 226 passing yards, well on their way to a 63-21 win over Toledo.
The Gophers finished with an advantage in total yards of 704-406.
Minnesota built a 42-7 lead by the half, stacking up 464 yards of offense in the first two quarters. Those 42 points tied the record for the most points UT has allowed in a half in its history, set in 1998 against Ohio State and again in 2002 against Boston College.
Toledo had stopped the Gophers on the first possession of the game, but senior Rhys Lloyd rambled for 21 yards from fourth-down punt formation at his own 22. Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito, a sophomore from Cincinnati starting his first game, sold the UT defense on his fake up the middle, and then drilled end Jared Ellison for a 46-yard gain inside Toledo's 10. Justin Valentine scored on a short run, and Minnesota led 7-0 just three minutes into the game.
The Rockets drove 86 yards in eight plays to quickly tie the score, with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski hitting wide receiver Lance Moore for a 25-yard touchdown. But Toledo lost any chance to make it competitive when the Gophers scored on their next five possessions to put the Rockets away.
Cupito connected on pass plays of 40, 14, 42, 20 and 52 yards in the relentless series of surges toward the UT end zone. Lloyd added insult to the injury by pulling off a second fake punt from deep in his own end just before the half ended.
"Cupito was tough. He definitely deserved to be their starting quarterback," UT linebacker Anthony Jordan said. "He made some good plays and put some throws on the money. He really got into us."
"No doubt about it - we got beat tonight in all aspects of the football game," UT coach Tom Amstutz said. "He did excellent play action and he had a lot of time back there.
"When you're committed to trying to stop a running game, that puts a defense in a predicament. We had a lot of players committed to the run box, and he did a nice job with the ball fakes, rolling out, and finding receivers deep down the field. "
The Rockets, the pre-season favorites to win the Mid-American Conference's West Division and the overall league championship, have not won a non-conference road game since Sept. 8, 2001 against Temple. Toledo managed only 14 yards rushing in the first half, while Minnesota's punter Lloyd had 28 on his two successful fakes.
The Golden Gophers, 21-2-1 all-time against MAC teams, tacked on another score early in the third quarter to make it 49-7, and continued to keep Toledo's offense from breaking a big play.
UT's Moore, who led the country with 103 receptions last season, had the sixth game in his career with 10 or more receptions.
"We didn't execute as well as we wanted to on offense, and things kind of snowballed from there," UT quarterback BRad Gradkowski said. "That's a good defense we faced out there. They were fast and strong. "
Toledo scored on a 56-yard pass from backup quarterback Marques Council to wide receiver Pete Lepley that made it 63-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
Quinton Broussard capped Toledo's scoring on a 14-yard run with just over a minute left in the game.
Minnesota is ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, the first time since 1969 the Golden Gophers have been ranked in the preseason.
Laurence Maroney, was the Big Ten freshman of the year last season when he exploded for 1,121 yards, had 108 rushing yards and a couple of scores by halftime and essentially took the rest of the night off.
Marion Barber III, who had 1,196 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns last year and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, had a pair of rushing touchdowns and 78 yards in just over a half of action.
The Gophers, who went 10-3 last year for the school's first 10-win season since 1905, scored on a long, grind-it-out drive late in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 56-7.
UT's nightmare then continued when Gradkowski hit Steve Odom over the middle for a 44-yard gain into Minnesota territory, but Odom fumbled the ball away and John Pawielski took it back 30 yards to set up yet another Gopher score and a 63-7 lead on the first play of the final quarter.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.