Gophers remain unsettled under center
OCT 13, 2012 4:04p ET
The answer, as it turned out Saturday against Northwestern, was quite a bit.
Gray missed Minnesota's last two games with a high ankle sprain suffered in the team's game against Western Michigan. Sophomore Max Shortell had started in Gray's place and again got the starting nod Saturday versus Northwestern.
But Gray was on the field for the Gophers' first offensive series — as a wide receiver. Gray spent his first two years at Minnesota as a wide receiver before transitioning back to quarterback. He caught a 16-yard pass from Shortell to give the Gophers a first down Saturday, his first catch in two years.
Even though Gray proved he was healthy enough to play, Kill said he didn't consider starting Gray at quarterback.
"We didn't know if he would be able to do what he did. That's why we played him a little bit at receiver, wanted to get him into the game to see how he would react and feel and so forth," Kill said. "I think we did everything we needed to do with MarQueis."
It didn't take long before Gray was back under center, however, as the senior took over on Minnesota's second drive of the game after Shortell was dinged up early. Gray's first pass of the day, a six-yard throw to tight end Drew Goodger, went for a first down. Later in the drive, Gray hit freshman wide receiver Andre McDonald for a 14-yard completion and another first down for Minnesota.
A few plays later, Gray scampered 25 yards up the middle on a zone read for the Gophers' first touchdown of the game. If there were any worries about Gray's ankle, he put them to rest with that touchdown run.
"He's a gifted athlete," Kill said. "You're practicing, (but) you're not playing in a game. He'd never taken a hit in practice, so we didn't know how he'd react to contact. Once he took some contact and got into the game, I think he felt good. We wouldn't put a kid out there if we didn't think he was 100 percent."
Gray didn't stay at 100 percent for long, though, as he was injured in the third quarter. After a long run down the right sideline, Gray was hit by a defender as he was going out of bounds. Gray remained on the turf momentarily before limping to the bench. Minnesota's athletic trainers taped up Gray's ankle, but he didn't return to the game.
Kill didn't elaborate on the extent of Gray's injury, saying only that he believed it was a low ankle injury. Before the injury, Gray was 7-for-11 passing for 66 yards and also picked up a team-high 86 yards on nine rushes.
Shortell came back in at quarterback after Gray went out and completed his first pass upon entering the game. Following a Shortell incompletion, the Gophers were forced to punt.
Trailing, 21-13, late in the fourth quarter, Shortell led the Gophers down the field for what could have been a potential game-tying drive, but the offense couldn't capitalize. Shortell had a wide-open Isaac Fruechte in the end zone, but Shortell's pass was underthrown while Fruechte lost his footing as he adjusted to make the catch.
"I definitely underthrew him," Shortell said. "I think if it's not as slippery, he just settles down and catches that. I think he kind of slipped, but I didn't have a real good view of it. … I knew I had to just put it up for him to catch. I knew I underthrew him a little bit."
One play later, Shortell hit A.J. Barker for a 16-yard gain to set up a first-and-goal situation. After Donnell Kirkwood rushed for four yards down to the 4-yard line, Shortell fumbled the snap for a loss of two yards on second down. On third and goal from the Wildcats' 6-yard line, Shortell couldn't complete a pass to Barker in the end zone.
Needing a score and a two-point conversion to tie, Shortell badly overthrew McDonald in the corner of the end zone on fourth down. Minnesota gave the ball back with 2:23 to play in the game.
"I've got to give him at least a chance," Shortell said of the pass to McDonald. "I can't overthrow it like that. I've got to give him a chance to make a play. He's a special athlete. That ball just went a lot further than I wanted it to, that's for sure."
With Gray injured again, the upcoming week will surely be filled with questions of which quarterback will start for Minnesota when it travels to play Wisconsin. Shortell didn't do much Saturday to instill confidence in Gophers fans, as he was just 9-for-19 for 103 yards. But if Gray isn't healthy, Minnesota will have to turn to Shortell again.
"Until we get to Tuesday and see where we're at on the health deal, that's a question I really can't answer," Kill said.
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