Troy Stoudermire is finally on the verge of winning a race he's been running for four years.
The Gophers senior cornerback returned three kickoffs against Southern California on Saturday -- all in the first half -- allowing him to move within one decent broken-tackle romp from the record for most kickoff return yardage in Big Ten history.
"I can't wait. I'm excited," Stoudermire said. "It's a big deal to me, because I've been working really hard for it."
Stoudermire took the game's opening kickoff 25 yards, one of three first-half returns that totaled 72 yards. That gives him 3,001 yards for his career at Minnesota, making him only the second Big Ten player ever to cross that plateau. But he didn't get another chance to return a kick, since USC never scored in the second half.
The conference record is held by Wisconsin returner and Armstrong graduate David Gilreath, who passed the honor back and forth with Stoudermire last season before finishing the season in front by 96 yards, with 3,025 yards overall. But Gilreath graduated, leaving Stoudermire with aspirations to take the top spot by himself this season.
The NCAA record (among FBS teams) is within sight, too. Tulsa receiver Damaris Johnson has 3,417 kick-return yards, but has been suspended indefinitely by the Golden Hurricane after being arrested on embezzlement charges. Since Stoudermire already owns the three best kick-return seasons in school history, having gained 1,083 yards in 2008, another 1,057 in 2009, and 789 last season, he could reach Johnson's mark by midseason.
But there's one scenario in which the senior cornerback, who has never returned a kick for a touchdown, wouldn't mind falling short of the record.
"I'm hoping our defense shuts them out, so there aren't any kickoffs to return," he said with a smile.
Good news, bad news
The Gophers saw a lot of positive signs from Saturday's opener, but it was still a loss, and the coaching staff made sure the players understood that Sunday and Monday.
"We need to get a lot better," said coach Jerry Kill.
The Gophers watched the game again with their coaches, and "that film session was tough," said center Ryan Wynn. "We saw ourselves making mistakes we haven't made since summer camp. But it's kind of reassuring, too -- we realize we just need to play the way we were in camp. We have confidence we can get it done."
Linebackers lacking depth
Brendan Beal's injured knee remains swollen, so doctors remain unsure about the next step for the sophomore linebacker.
"It's not going to be a one-week thing," Kill said. "Is it a month? I wish I knew, but I don't."
In addition, sophomore linebacker Aaron Hill "is about 75 percent" because of a strained hamstring, Kill said, and is "very questionable" for Saturday's home opener with New Mexico State.