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Gophers make it look easy

Expectedly-tough opener was anything but

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- 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. 25 Gophers beat Toledo 63-21 on Saturday night.

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"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."

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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 (formerly of Rochester Community and Technical College) 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.

Bruce Gradkowski was 19-for-30 for 202 yards and a touchdown for Toledo, and Fred Biletnikoff Award candidate Lance Moore caught 10 passes for 99 yards and a score.

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.

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.

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Instant replay was available for the officials, thanks to an experimental rule change this year in the Big Ten, but it wasn't used.

Toledo 7 0 0 14 -- 21

; Minnesota 21 21 14 7 -- 63

; First Quarter

Min--Valentine 1 run (Lloyd kick), 11:45.

Tol--Moore 25 pass from Gradkowski (Robbins kick), 9:12.

Min--Maroney 20 run (Lloyd kick), 7:59.

Min--Wheelwright 42 pass from Cupito (Lloyd kick), 4:34.

Second Quarter

Min--Barber 18 run (Lloyd kick), 14:54.

Min--Barber 1 run (Lloyd kick), 11:34.

Min--Maroney 1 run (Lloyd kick), 5:02.

Third Quarter

Min--Pinnix 3 run (Lloyd kick), 9:55.

Min--Valentine 3 run (Lloyd kick), 2:40.

Fourth Quarter

Min--Wheelwright 10 pass from Ernst (Lloyd kick), 2:49.

Tol--Lepley 56 pass from Council (Robbins kick), 8:48.

Tol--Broussard 14 run (Robbins kick), 1:37.

A--45,144.

Tol Min

; First downs 16 31

; Rushes-yards 21-94 68-415

; Passing 312 289

; Comp-Att-Int 24-38-0 11-13-0

; Return Yards 75 130

; Punts-Avg. 8-43 1-34

; Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0

; Penalties-Yards 1-10 1-10

; Time of Possession 23:12 36:48

; INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING--Toledo, Broussard 7-40, Dawson 6-27, Council 2-12, Moore 1-6, McDougle 3-5, Gradkowski 2-4. Minnesota, Maroney 14-108, Pinnix 17-88, Russell 14-79, Barber 14-78, Lloyd 2-28, Ellerson 2-21, Valentine 3-7, Mortensen 2-6.

PASSING--Toledo, Gradkowski 19-30-0-202, Council 5-8-0-110. Minnesota, Cupito 10-12-1-279, Ernst 1-1-0-10, Mortenson 0-0-0-0.

RECEIVING--Toledo, Moore 10-99, Lepley 2-63, Odom 3-62, McDougle 3-45, Higgins 3-15, Holmes 1-16, Washington 1-10, Dawson 1-2. Minnesota, Ellerson 4-140, Wheelwright 2-52, Posthumus 1-52, Hamilton 1-20, Wallace 2-19, Maroney 1-6.

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