Two words: Quarterback Controversy?

Sure, Adam Weber is coming off arm surgery and has been the starting quarterback the past two seasons for the University of Minnesota football team.

But after watching freshman MarQueis Gray dazzle the crowd in three-plus quarters with the second-team offense Saturday, one can wonder whether this summer the Gophers will have a quarterback controversy?

"(MarQueis) is great player, and over the spring has become a better student of the game. He has a great arm, and he has a great quarterback to learn from in Adam Weber," Gophers coach Tim Brewster said. "It’s always great to learn from other players, and Adam has been great at showing how to be a leader and how to play the game at this level. I think this will help MarQueis really become a great player. We will have packages every game where he is involved.”

Gray threw for two touchdowns, including a 59-yard strike down the right sideline to lead the White team to a 17-17 tie with the Maroon squad. Gray connected with Broderick Smith midway through the fourth quarter on a pass that Smith caught in stride and galloped into the end zone to tie the score.

Gray also made a fantastic pass on a pump-fake, back corner pass to Smith earlier in the quarter for a 17-yard touchdown. Remember, the second-team offense was going against the first-team offense.

Gray led the way completing 8-of-10 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Smith caught four passes for 98 yards.

Weber also had a strong showing, making a number of 8-10 yard passes to move the first-team unit, which included 6-7, 375-pound Jeff Wills at right tackle, Matt Stommes at left tackle and Matt Carufel at a guard position.

“I was satisfied. But there were too many mistakes. I didn’t know how much I was going to be able to do this spring, so I was happy just to be out there," Weber said. " I don’t think we were near 100 percent (as an offense), but it’s a process and come September 5th, when we play Syracuse, it’s my job as the quarterback to get everyone at that level.”

The returning starter completed 9-of-12 passes for 77 yards. Freshman Kevin Whaley had 12 carries for 63 yards and a score to lead the Gophers on the ground. Whaley had the most carries, but DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett also saw extended playing time.

Fullback Jon Hoese had a great lead block on the Whaley touchdown, which went off-tackle down the left sideline.

While Gray was the star, Troy Stoudmire wasn't too far behind him. He accounted for 274 all-purpose yards. The sophomore ran for 63 yards on two carries, including a 54-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter. He returned three kickoffs for 143 yards, including a 60-yard return in the third quarter. Stoudermire also snagged three passes for 31 yards and returned two punts for 37 yards.

"Troy is good player and last year we saw that. He is a dynamic player, who can really make some plays with the football. I think it is a sign of things to come, and he’s really going to do some good things for us this season. At receiver, defensive back, or in the return game, we are just glad he’s a Gopher,” Brewster said.

“As soon as I got the ball I was thinking about going straight to the end zone," Stoudmire said. "When I saw my block come out in front of me I thought ‘oh yea, I’m going straight to the end zone’. There was only one man to beat, and I beat him.”

While I was impressed with Gray and Stoudmire and some of the younger receivers in Smith and Eric Lair (caught a nice pass down the middle), the defense at times was poor.

The middle of the field was wide open from the line to the secondary. Whaley was able to gain yards up the middle in bunches of 6-7 yards. Weber and Gray worked a lot of shorter 8-10 yard passes, going at slower linebackers like Nate Triplett and Lee Campbell over the middle.

“This is the fourth defense we’ve installed in the four years I have been here and I feel like we are way ahead of schedule compared to where we’ve been in the past coming out of spring, " Gophers linebacker Lee Campbell said. "I feel like this defense has great schemes. I feel like we have great chemistry so far, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The offense is out there making plays and we need to take the time this summer to work as hard as we can to get bigger, faster, and stronger.”

Traye Simmons, Ryan Collado, transfer Kim Royston and Kyle Theret started in the defensive backfield.

The biggest positive from the defense was tackling. There wasn't many missed tackles and a number of Gophers were in on almost every tackle.

“I think this team has a real edge to it," Brewster said. "Physical toughness is a big part of that. This spring there was a big emphasis on being able to run the football. We showed that we can run the football and that we’re going to be good at doing it. We still have a lot of work to do, but we really improved as a team this spring.”

All-in-all, a great day for Gophers football. The weather was perfect and St. Thomas was a great host. I have plenty of photos that I will send to PJS and Gophernation for them to use and post.

Other notes:

< Eric Ellestad connected on both field goals and all four extra points. His long came on a 47-yard kick with the wind at his back. Senior punter Blake Maudan also had a punt of 64 yards in the same direction.

< Senior defensive end Cedric McKinley was dominant, racking up six tackles, four of which were for losses. He recorded three sacks as well. To protect quarterbacks, only a simple touch stopped the play.

< Sam Maresh played with the second-team defense in the middle, wearing No. 17. He still looked like he was getting back into game-shape. He is built.

< John Nance was the only other quarterback to play. He played two series for Weber in the fourth quarter.

< Receiver Ben Kuznia did not play due to a hamstring strain.

< An overflow crowd of more than 7,700 fans showed up at O'Shaughnessy Stadium on the campus of the University of St. Thomas for the contest. 

< Saturday's spring game was the last of 15 practices allowed by the NCAA. The Gophers open the 2009 season Sept. 5 at Syracuse University. Minnesota's home opener and first game ever at TCF Bank Stadium will be played Sept. 12, when the Gophers host the United States Air Force Academy 6 p.m. CT.

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