MarQueis Gray's passing was one of the most important storylines from Thursday's victory over UNLV, and I recounted his determination to fix his problem in Wednesday morning's Star Tribune. The fix is a relatively simple one, Gray said -- he just needs to get more loft on his passes.
"Having been a receiver, I know that's what you need -- more air under the ball and give your guy a chance to run under it," Gray said Tuesday. "That's what we're working on this week. I had too many line drives."
But there's another issue regarding Gray's play that's worth considering, too: His running. The senior quarterback -- the Gophers' leading rusher last season -- carried the ball 17 times, more than any other Minnesota ballcarrier. (Tailbacks James Gillum had 14 carries, and Donnell Kirkwood 13.)
Only a couple of his rushes were scrambles, Gray said; the great majority were called runs. And he gained 68 yards on those carries, an average of 4.0 yards per run that's about a yard shorter than his average a year ago.
Gray's role changed in the fourth quarter, when the Rebels relaxed their contain-Gray strategy. Until then, a UNLV defender had been assigned to keep track of the quarterback from across the line of scrimmage, and step forward if he tried to run.
"Most of the game, they had a guy spying me, so I had to stay in the pocket," Gray said. "But as the game wore on, they took it off, and the coaches noticed that and had me run the ball."
And run it a lot. Eight of Gray's carries came in the fourth quarter, along with 37 of the yards.
That's a lot of work for the 6-foot-5 senior, and Kill said after the game that he wants to be careful how much they unleash Gray early in the game, to avoid wearing him down. But the Gophers will do what's necessary to win, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said, and that means giving the 6-foot-5 quarterback plenty of carries. Last year, he averaged 18.1 rushes per game, albeit on a team with less depth at tailback.
"We've never put a limit on that, because (in) our offense, you don't know if he'll carry the ball on a given play because there are so many reads. So it could be 17 (rushes) one week, 11 the next, could be 22 the following week," Limegrover said. "We're not saying hey we've got to put a cap on it. This isn't (Nationals pitcher) Stephen Strasburg -- we're not going to shut him down after so many innings. If he's got it and he's feeling it, if he's running downhill, we're not going to hold back."