Minnesota Football: How Max Shortell changes the Gopher offense (NOT a QB controversy piece)

SEP 15, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Gophers wide receiver A.J. Barker (82) scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Western Michigan Broncos at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-US PRESSWIRE

Before I go anywhere with this, let me say that I agree with GN, GoAUpher, FBT, and anybody else that writes about Gopher football who isn't writing for page clicks, and therefore money: there is NO quarterback controversy with the Gopher football team.

The point of this piece is not to make an argument for why Max Shortell should be QB1 for the Gophers even after MarQueis Gray returns from injury. The point of this piece is ONLY to show how Max Shortell changes the landscape of the Gopher offense, and how quickly that change took place on Saturday.

Thanks to the stellar work of BTN in screwing those of us not in attendance at The Bank on Saturday out of a good portion of the 1st half of Saturday's game, I wasn't able to look at as much game film as I was hoping. But even without the benefit of being able to watch the entire first half of the game, I was able to pinpoint (watch) 8 plays where MarQueis was behind center, that I would consider likely passing downs. (For the purposes of this illustration, I considered a likely passing down to be 1st & >10 yards, 2nd & >7 yards, 3rd >6 yards.)

Again, this did not include any plays that weren't shown on BTN.

In these 8 likely passing situation plays that I was able to re-watch, Western Michigan started the plays with no less than 7 players in the box, and quite often shifted to 8 or 9 men in the box. In addition to these 8 plays that were likely passing situations, Western Michigan committed no less than 7 players to the box on all 1st & 10 situations.

What this means is that, as far as I can tell (thank you again BTN), WMU did not commit less than 7 players to the box on any offensive play that the Gophers ran while MarQueis Gray was behind center.

Translation: With MarQueis Gray at QB, Western Michigan was not concerned about the Gophers beating them with the pass.

One more note: before his injury, MarQueis Gray played in 24 offensive plays. Just six of these plays (25%) were pass plays.

After the jump I'll examine what happened after Q's injury.

Enter Max Shortell. Let's look at the first offensive series with Max Shortell as QB.

  • Play 1: 1st & 13. Limegrover calls a pass on Shortell's first play. WMU sticks with 7 in the box, like they did on each passing situation against MarQueis. Shortell completes for 32 yards.
  • Play 2: 1st & 10: Kirkwood for -4 yards.
  • Play 3: 2nd & 14: Limegrover calls another pass. WMU still has 7 in the box. The play results in a pass interference penalty against WMU.
  • Play 4: 1st & 10: Another pass. WMU has 7 in the box. Shortell throws a 24 yard completion.

Two plays later Max throws a TD to AJ Barker, putting the Gophers ahead for good. But let's ignore that for a minute. Let's look only at the first 4 plays that Max Shortell was behind center and see how quickly his presence opened up the offense...

  • In 1 play Max Shortell eclipses MarQueis Gray's passing yardagefor the day.
  • In 3 passing attempts (4 total plays) Shortell completes two passes that are each for greater than 20 yards.
  • In 4 total plays (3 pass attempts), Western Michigan goes from committing a minimum of 7 players in the box on every single play, to not committing more than 6 players to the box in any likely passing situation.
  • In 4 passing attempts (one being the pass interference penalty), Shortell matches Gray's completion total for the day.
  • In 8 total plays, Max Shortell matches MarQueis Gray's total of 6 pass attempts (which, remember, took MarQueis a total of 24 plays).

Max Shortell said after the game that the offense was planning to open things up on the drive that he entered, so if MarQueis hadn't been injured he would have had the same opportunity to make the throws and put up the numbers that Shortell did.

There are two reasons I have my doubts that this would have been the case.

#1: The very first play on the drive when things were apparently going to be opened up was yet another QB keeper (the play in which Gray was injured).

#2: It seems to me that it has become clear through the, essentially, 3 full quarters that Max Shortell has played QB for the Gophers this season, that he is better than MarQueis Gray in two areas:

1. Shortell checks through his throwing options much faster than Gray.

2. Shortell is much more accurate on pass attempts over 15 yards than Gray.

Again, this is not about a QB controversy. I believe that what MarQueis Gray can do with his legs, running the ball downfield and extending the pocket, as well as his position as the unquestioned leader of this football team, are more important to the Gophers right now than what Max Shortell brings to the table as a passer.

Having said that, it's interesting, and almost a bit shocking, how drastically the complexion of this offense changes from MarQueis Gray to Max Shortell.

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