LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Quarterback MarQueis Gray #5 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers throws a pass against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 3, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. USC won 19-17. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
When Max Shortell entered the second half of last Saturday's game against the Gophers my first reaction was to send out a tweet to Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press: "Shortell getting a shot now... happy?"
Now I'll admit that I had had a couple of barley-pops by that point, but Fuller has been a bit of a proponent of keeping MarQueis Gray at WR and letting Shortell run the offense, so my tweet wasn't completely out of left field. I wasn't implying that Fuller would be happy with Gray going down, I was simply reacting to the fact that Shortell was now getting the shot to run the offense, a move that Fuller had theorized about a few times.
Turns out that everybody was jumping on the Shortell for QB1 bandwagon. My mom, who loves football but doesn't really watch the Gophers actually took some time to watch the USC game. When I asked her on Sunday if she watched and what she thought, she said, "I did watch, and you know, I thought the freshman looked better."
But yesterday Marcus had a tweet that really says it all when it comes to the QB situation for the Gophers.
@GophersNowPiPress Gophers NowNo matter how well Shortell played for true frosh QB, Gray can do things that no defense can prepare for. He is starter unless he's injured.
And Marcus is completely right. Sorry mom.
In the first half MarQueis Gray looked a bit confused, sometimes out of his element, inaccurate, and some might even go as far as to say over-matched. He began to settle in and make some plays before going down, but for the most part his performance was underwhelming.
By comparison Max Shortell looked poised, he had a strong arm, and he was mobile enough to make the defense think twice. Those are all important things in this offense and for a D1 QB. Based on such a small sample size alone, it would be easy to have a knee-jerk reaction that Shortell should be the leader.
But when Shortell came in he also had something that Gray didn't: a group of players around him that had settled into the game-plan and had left their jitters in the first half. It's an important distinction because Shortell didn't deal with the blocking scheme breakdowns that Gray had to deal with giving him more time to make decisions and more holes to scramble through when needed.
Now, having said that, and while I'm in the mode of praising Twin Cities media-types, (and this one really pains me) I also have to agree with Sid Hartman, who wrote:
Now in the right situations, Gray can go back to his 2010 receiving position with Shortell at quarterback, thus posing a problem for any defense.
Limegrover's NIU offense played two quarterbacks in 9 of 13 games last season. Translation: having a solid, mobile, strong-armed QB behind Gray is exactly the kind of option that Limegrover wants in this offense. Add to that what Sid so astutely pointed out, that that will allow Gray to be spread wide to create match-up problems for the defense, and suddenly you've added a wrinkle that other teams simply can't prepare for.
For a team that is still learning the offensive scheme, a player with MarQueis' athletic and running ability gives you so many options when you are facing adversity from the defense. That dimension is something that Max Shortell just cannot give the Gophers right now. But Shortell is the kind of QB that can provide a talented change of pace for the offense, and if Limegrover is able to use him in those situations throughout the season, Shortell will be incredibly dangerous when it's his turn to be QB1 in two years.