This season is full of new experiences for Philip Nelson, and he absorbed a couple of unhappy ones Saturday at Nebraska.
First, he spent two hours being harassed by a defense that kept him guessing with blitzes and wouldn't allow his receivers to get any separation -- "The space for fitting passes in to our receivers was smaller than for any other game, that's for sure," Nelson said -- and it caused him to resort to some bad form.
He had to throw off his back foot several times, which is at least part of the reason for his 8-for-23 passing day, with two interceptions. "With them bringing a lot of pressure, as a quarterback, you've got to be able to feel it," the freshman quarterback said. "We work on pocket throws (in practice), being able to be uncomfortable in the pocket and still make an accurate throw. I've got to be able to do that."
He also occasionally has to accept that it's time to retreat. Nelson, who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since the first quarter against Michigan, three games agao, was relieved as the quarterback by backup Max Shortell with 9:35 remaining in the game and the Gophers trailing, 38-0. Working against Cornhusker reserves, Shortell led the Gophers on their longest drive of the day, a 58-yard march that ended with a MarQueis Gray touchdown from 1 yard out.
The decision was an easy one, Limegrover said, especially since the Gophers have watched Shortell and Gray get injured while quarterbacking this season. It's too easy to imagine a broken leg or a mangled knee.
"That was just a matter of, hey, let's make sure we keep him healthy and upright. So he was OK with it," said offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. He expected Nelson to be disappointed, but quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, stationed on the sidelines to work with Nelson during the game, delivered the news, which made it easier to take, Limegrover said. "It definitely helps having Coach Z right there, because he's got a great relationship with him," Limegrover said. "He talked to Philip, said, 'There's a lot of football to play, we've got a game next week, let's get Max some work."
Nelson said he was indeed chagrined by the decision, but "I support our coaches," he said. "It's a disappointing feeling, and you're frustrated with the outcome of the game. But you just learn from it and move on."