The Jerry Kill / MarQueis Gray Era Begins With a Loss to USC

LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 3: Duane Bennett #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers dives in for a touchdown. USC won 19-17. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Let us have a brief lesson on the English language...

Moral adj \ˈmr-əl, ˈmär-\ - expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior

Victory noun \ˈvik-t(ə-)rē\ - achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties

Moral Victory - The Gophers 17-19 loss to USC

Nobody really likes moral victories. Players see no value in them, coaches hate them and fans know they shouldn't every say those two words. So why am I bringing it up? Well, that is exactly what this game WAS. Not what I wanted it to be this way and I'm not happy we lost. I would rather have been USC who played sloppy, made mistakes and still came away with the actual victory than being a Gopher fan today who outplayed the more talented home team in the second half nearly pulling off the upset of the weekend.

The victory was not to be so the moral one is all we have. And there were a number of encouraging things to be gleaned from the Gopher's 0-1 start to the season. Gopher fans had been eagerly anticipating the debut of head coach Jerry Kill and starting quarterback MarQueis Gray. But Minnesota spent the first half mired in mistakes and disorganization. The Kill/Gray Era got off to an inauspicious start. Delay of games, false starts, opponents having career days, poor special teams play and a three-score halftime deficit. If it sounds like the Brewster era well it felt like it too.

But where the story takes a different turn was halftime. Jerry Kill either made some impressive adjustments at the half or he lit a significant fire under the butts of his team. Because the second half saw two completely different teams on the field of The Coliseum. The Trojans were flat and made several key mistakes. The Gophers played faster and more importantly with a newfound confidence, even when their starting QB went down to be replaced by true freshman.

"I was disappointed. We had opportunities to win the game and didn't do some of the things early and I take responsibility for that. We looked nervous and uncomfortable in the first half. We settled down in the second half. Give them credit, they bowed up and we competed our tails off in the second.

"We worked hard in the off-season on conditioning. They were faster than us in the first half. But in the second half I thought we played faster than they did."

But the story of the first half was the USC connection of Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. Nobody told the Gopher defense that Jerry Rice Chris Carter Randy Moss Robert Woods was suiting up in a Trojan uniform. Woods had a USC, record setting day catching 17 passes for 177 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was unstoppable. But the rest of the important storylines surround the Gophers.

MarQueis Gray started and finished only with mixed reviews. Cramping prevented him from finishing the game. Gray was 7/12 for 94 yards while leading the team in rushing with 65 yards on the ground. He made some great throws, particularly in the 2nd half where he was playing with supreme confidence and was leading his offense.

Max Shortell impressed everyone as the true freshman came into the game as the fourth quarter started and nearly led the Gophers to victory. Shortell was 7/13 with 98 yards and a touchdown to Brandon Green.

Brock Vereen also quietly had a pretty good game. No interceptions for the sophomore but 13 tackles, including 2 for a loss was good to see.

Ultimately it was a loss that everyone was expecting but there are signs of life with this Gopher team and program. Next week nothing can be learned from a loss, a win has to be expected. But this team turned some heads today with their moral victory. That won't prevent the team plane from being being somber and players/coaches losing sleep over the missed opportunity. Nor should it.

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