WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — MarQueis Gray had a couple of goals for Saturday. He went 1-for-2.
"It's a game I wanted to play," said the junior quarterback, who wore street clothes on the sidelines during a loss at Michigan a week earlier. "It's a game I wanted to win."
Still, just getting back on the field after straining the ligaments in his big toe was progress, considering Gray didn't know for sure that it would happen until late in the first quarter. Since Gray hadn't practiced much over the past two weeks, coach Jerry Kill decided to give freshman Max Shortell his second career start.
It didn't go well, though it had little to do with Shortell. The freshman took seven snaps, handed the ball off four times and completed two of his three passes, though for only 9 yards. The Gophers punted twice, fumbled once, and when they received the ball again with 1:30 to play in the first quarter, they trailed 17-0.
"If we had gotten out to a better start, maybe we wouldn't have tried to pull him out. But I felt we needed a spark," Kill said. "It's not anything that Max did; it's just that we needed some type of spark to get going."
There was a spark pretty quickly, all right. But it burned the Gophers.
On his third play from scrimmage, Gray tried to loop a pass to the left sideline to Da'Jon McKnight. Cornerback Ricardo Allen wasn't fooled.
"That guy got a great break on the ball," Gray said. "Unfortunately, I held on to the ball too long, and he made a play."
Big one, too. Allen stepped in front of McKnight in stride and jetted to the end zone, 37 yards away.
"Nobody's good enough to overcome three critical errors early in the game," Kill said. "And we certainly were not today."
Especially with their QB looking rusty after only two half-practices in two weeks. Gray completed eight of 20 passes, but he had to go 4-for-6 at the end to manage even that. He's not limping anymore, and he even managed to jump into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown, but Gray said his sore foot can use the bye week next Saturday.
"It's sore a little bit, but it's nothing to worry about," he said. "I keep going to the training room, and it's getting better."
So will his play, Kill said.
"I thought he did some good things. I thought he ran the team pretty good," Kill said. "Our quarterback situation, those guys are going to get better. We've got to get everybody else around them to pick up the pace."