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The Gopher Perspective - A Gopher Quarterback Controversy AGAIN? No Thank You.

Minnesota Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray (5).  Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
Minnesota Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray (5). Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Max Shortell has ignited the message boards and given editorialists reason to talk about a potential Gopher quarterback controversy. Despite the fact that Gray led the Gophers in back-to-back wins to start the season, Shortell entered Saturday's game with the Gophers trailing and proceeded to orchestrate three touchdowns on three consecutive drives.

Shortell's execution and comeback win (technically it was a comeback win, even though it was just a 3 point deficit in the 2nd quarter) has many talking about his great play and what it means for the Gopher offense going forward.

So do we have a quarterback controversy? I was able to find a handful of interesting quotes from around the interwebs and this doesn't even include message boards and comment sections...

I think a Shortell to Gray touchdown pass would be a huge momentum shifter at home against a top opponent such as Nebraska, Wisconsin or Iowa. Those types of plays you can predict. And that’s what the Gophers will need to pull off a big upset this year.

I do believe that MarQueis Gray can help this team more as a slot receiver than a quarterback. I'd make the move now, putting in Max Shortell, and allowing Gray to play multiple roles, including Wildcat quarterback.

If we're building this program on a solid foundation, then wouldn't getting Max Shortell playing time now better prepare him for future seasons as the Gopher starter? You could make a case for either guy right now, but they're not demonstrably better with either quarterback running the show. So shouldn't that tip the scales towards Shortell?

There's no question, that Gray seems to be our most talented athlete, but he may not be a quarterback. Max Shortell is a quarterback.

Add another option to the team by putting our best athlete in Gray out there, and you've got two great options. I would also love to see Gray go to the next level, and I see him being able to do that as a receiver, not as a quarterback.

(Links to those quotes can be found here 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Now I suppose I should tell you that these quotes are from last season. They are a year old and I fear we are heading down the same path just 12 months later without being a year wiser.

To be fair, I don't think there is very much steam to an actual quarterback controversy. So far it is mostly message board chatter, water-cooler discussion and a few members of the media trying to stir things up without actually taking a stance.

We were here a year ago. We talked about how the offense would be more potent with Gray at receiver and Shortell throwing him the ball. We talked about how this allows Shortell to develop at QB, making the team better over the next two seasons. The team struggled in both scenarios until late October when the entire team started to come together.

Why Gray? I'll give a you few very good reasons...

First off all, the kid continues to get better. Looking at his first six starts last year compared to his final five games and adding in just the first two games of this year. The numbers speak for themselves.

Games Pass/Game Comp % Pass TD INT Rush/Game Per Carry Rush TD
2011 Start 6 124.5 48.7% 3 4 73.0 4.7 2
2011 Finish 5 149.6 53.1% 5 4 105.6 5.0 4
2012 Start* 2 189.5 60.5% 4 1 88.5 5.2 2

* not including his two quarters of action vs. Western Michigan

There are of course a few counter-arguments to these numbers, like the level of competition, but what more can you ask for other than increased across the board. I think people quickly forget the facts and make incorrect assumptions about Gray's inability to complete 50% of his passes and being incredibly one-dimensional. Yes, he is more dangerous on the ground than he is through the air, but he is still capable of throwing the ball with some success. I don't think he has really been given much of an opportunity to throw the ball yet this year.

And his feet aren't just his pretty good, they are damn good. Need I remind you about a 75-yard run just a week ago? Or how about this?

Gray didn't beat Iowa with just his legs. He also completed over 64% of his passes for 193 yards and a touchdown through the air.

And finally, you don't make a quarterback change when your quarterback is the unquestioned leader of your team. Beginning with the Iowa game last year, Gray has taken ownership of not just this offense but of the entire team. Do not forget that the Gophers trailed by 11 in the 4th quarter of the Iowa game before Gray led them to a huge comeback win. Until he is preventing you from winning games, and that is blatantly obvious, you do not bench him for the sophomore.

Now, let's talk about Max Shortell. I really like Shortell and while I don't believe Saturday's performance creates a personnel decision for Coach Kill this year, I certainly believe it makes things more interesting for next year. The red-headed sophomore came into the game and injected some offensive life into a unit that needed a spark on Saturday. I feel much more comfortable when he steps under center than I would have a week ago.

To be fair to Gray, the decision to start throwing the ball and opening up the offense was made before the ankle injury. Shortell, in the post-game press conference admitted that the offense was going to open up that series regardless of who was under center. He certainly benefited from the increase in pass plays and he took full advantage of his opportunity.

"The timing that I got in we had some things dialed up. And it just so happens that Queis would have had a chance to do those but, you know, I got in and got a chance to do some of those plays that we had in our back pocket."

I would really like to see the offense giving Gray those similar opportunities, but we have not done so yet.

Even if this were a debate, it shouldn't be debated for another couple weeks. Gray is injured, almost certainly missing the next two games before the bye week. At that point we will have a larger body of work by which we can judge Max Shortell. I see two significant questions face Coach Kill. One is more short-term and another will be for the Northwestern game.

What do we do if Max Shortell gets injured? If Shortell were to get injured does Kill burn the redshirt of Philip Nelson? I think everyone desperately wants Nelson to stay off the field for 2012, giving him four years of eligibility after Gray graduates. But if Shortell is unable to play, do you play Mitch Leidner? From the outside that would appear as though you are waving the white flag for now to save Nelson's redshirt. Maybe Leidner wouldn't be so bad, but it would certainly make for an interesting decision for Kill.

If Gray is anything less than 100%, who starts? Let us assume for a moment that Gray can come back at 80 or 85% for the Northwestern game. Let us also assume that Shortell has played well, though not brilliant. Do you start Gray at less than 100%? Unless Shortell has been brutal, contributing to consecutive losses, I think you have to play Shortell. I believe that Gray is capable of beating teams with his arm, but there is no doubt that his legs are his greatest attribute. If he is still slowed by the ankle, then Max has to remain the starter.

I hope that over the next two weeks we are able to keep all of this in perspective. Gray is our starting QB, Shortell is the backup this season and a very capable one at that. To be honest, it will be completely up to Max Shortell if there is going to be a quarterback controversy. If he plays outstanding, then we'll have reason for debate. Now that we have a competent offensive line protecting our quarterback, now that we have receivers capable of getting open and now that we have a defense capable of occasionally stopping an opponent; both quarterbacks are going to be in better position to do things well and lead our Gophers to victory.