As MarQueis Gray was laying face-down on the TCF Bank Stadium turf, Gophers doctors feared the worst: a broken left leg.
But the senior quarterback's injury turned out to be far less serious, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said Sunday. An MRI on his left leg found no broken bones and no structural damage to his knee. Gray's injury is believed to be a high ankle sprain, and while that's a condition that normally requires two to four weeks of recovery, Kill pointed out that Gray has returned from injuries quickly in the past.
"He's a tough, tough kid," Kill said of his starting quarterback. "He bounced back off turf toe (last season) pretty good, (and) most people don't."
The Gophers, 3-0 after yesterday's 28-23 victory over Western Michigan, began preparation for next Saturday night's game with Syracuse, and Kill sounded as though he doesn't expect Gray to be in uniform. "With what we know and where he's at, we'll get Max (Shortell) ready to go and Philip (Nelson) ready to go, and go that direction until we're told differently."
Gray was taken to the locker room on a cart after the second-quarter injury suffered while he tried to carry the ball for additional yardage, and spent the second half on crutches. "He got bent back, where his body was going one way," Kill said. "His whole leg went completely numb."
But Gray told Kill after the game that the injury wasn't serious, and athletic trainer Ed Lochrie tentatively confirmed the diagnosis after consulting with physicians about Gray's MRI. Lochrie plans additional consultations, Kill said, but for now, the Gophers are proceeding as though Gray will return within a few weeks.
"High ankle sprains are usually a month," Kill said. "Now, how bad the sprain is, is (the question). There are different degrees. I don't think anybody knows the degree (yet). We'll see if he's swelled up, how he moves on Monday."
Shortell stepped in for Gray and led the Gophers on three consecutive touchdown drives to earn the victory. "It's very gratifying to see what Max did when he came in. We don't win the game" without him, Kill said. "It's gratifying to do that, but our whole team has got to pick it up as we go here."
Kill sounded more worried, actually, about the loss of cornerback Martez Shabazz, who will miss a few weeks with a dislocated toe. "Shabazz is a guy we miss right now, because he was playing pretty well," the coach said. "We're OK, but we can't afford to have anybody else get damaged in the secondary."
Center Zach Mottla also is out with an ankle injury, and likely will miss another week, Kill said. But right guard Zac Epping -- "he's our best offensive lineman right now, period," Kill said -- moved over to fill in for Mottla, with Caleb Bak taking Epping's spot.
Receiver Devin Crawford-Tufts missed the latter part of Saturday's game with severe cramps, but Kill said he's expected back against Syracuse.