The Minnesota Golden Gophers brought their record to 3-0 on the season with a 28-23 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday, but starting quarterback Marqueis Gray left the game midway through the second quarter with what coach Jerry Kill called a high left ankle sprain and did not return. He did eventually return to the sideline with his left foot in a walking boot and his left knee bandaged.
Sophomore Max Shortell took over, throwing a long completion on his first throw, and led the Gophers to a touchdown as he completed that series in Gray’s place. Shortell also led scoring drives on Minnesota’s next two possessions, and finished the game 10-for-17 for 188 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. Gray on the other hand did not play particularly well prior to being injured, going 3-for-6 for 29 yards and a touchdown along with 11 carries for 57 yards.
Shortell did not play much as a freshman in 2011, notably coming into the season opener against USC when Gray was sidelined by cramps, and completed 26 of his 54 pass attempts for 309 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. He did see action in the Gophers’ second game of this season against New Hampshire, and went 5-for-6 for 72 yards with a touchdown pass along with 17 rushing yards in that contest
Gray’s status for next Saturday night’s game against Syracuse is unknown right now, but we should get some clarity as the week goes on and game day gets closer. But with the way Shortell moved the offense on Saturday, should he get a chance to make his first collegiate start and put Gray on the bench even if he’s able to suit up?
Kill and his staff have committed to making Gray into a quarterback after previous coach Tim Brewster used him as a wide receiver at times during his first two collegiate seasons. But his shortcomings as a passer, in terms of consistency in particular, are obvious and his clear strength is as an athlete and runner. Plugging Shortell into the starting job under center and using Gray as a multi-faceted offensive weapon could be a good thing for the Gophers’ offense as they begin conference play on September 29 against Iowa.
All in all, I think Gray will not lose the starting job to Shortell based purely on this injury. Most football coaches say you can’t lose your job to injury and that seems like the approach Kill will take, even if he avoided confirming the suggestion he now has a quarterback controversy after Saturday’s game. That said, if Gray struggles throwing the ball at times once he is back to 100 percent Shortell may get a few more chances to play and prove he deserves a shot to become the Gophers’ starting quarterback in 2013.