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MarQueis Gray ran for a first-half touchdown against New Hampshire in the Gophers’ second game when he was healthy and the unquestioned starter at quarterback.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file

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Gophers' Gray hoping for dreamy end to career

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER
  • Star Tribune
  • December 28, 2012 - 8:47 AM

HOUSTON - MarQueis Gray's dreams of a triumphant senior season, of directing a track meet of an offense, of zipping the ball all over the field to receivers who seemingly can read his mind -- have all come true.

Just not for Gray.

No, it's Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege who has lived out Gray's football fantasy, of completing 70 percent of his passes and turning into the very model of an efficient and prolific passer, of leading his team to a bowl game. Gray didn't get to live that dream, so all that's left is spoiling the ending for Doege.

And Gray is apparently going to get that chance in Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

"We're still in the process of making final decisions on how we want to do it," Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said during a 1500-AM radio interview Thursday, "but I do believe at various points of the game, you'll see both guys taking snaps." He later added: "You're going to see both guys, and if somebody gets a hot hand, gets us moving, you may see one more than the other."

He means Gray, whose senior season was ruined by a knee and an ankle injury in the Gophers' third game, and Philip Nelson, the true-freshman understudy who eventually rose to the starter's role. Together, they will try to keep up with a Texas Tech offense that averaged 37 points per game this year.

For Gray, the opportunity is a symbolic, if melancholy, way to wrap up a career that never lived up to his own high expectations.

"I came here as a quarterback, and I'm going out as a quarterback," Gray said. After a pause, he added, " slash, receiver."

"Philip's going to get his reps. He's been doing a great job of taking over the leadership role," Gray said of his former backup, who became the starter while Gray was hobbled. "I guess the coaches want to keep their defense off-balance. [With] my style of play, being able to run and throw the ball, I guess that's what they're trying to do."

They are, Limegrover confirmed during his radio interview, but they're also trying to win. Getting Nelson valuable playing experience on a nationally televised stage is important, Limegrover said, but the Gophers are motivated by the present, too. Nelson has not thrown for 100 yards in any of the Gophers' past three games, and has gone 14 quarters without throwing a touchdown pass. Gray got off to a slow start to the season before his injury, but remains the Gophers' best athlete and offensive weapon.

"Going into the season, it's no secret that we were very excited about the progress MarQueis had made. He was going to be our guy," but the injury scuttled those plans, Limegrover said. "He's finally back and healthy."

In fact, he's been playing very well in practice, Limegrover said, another reason the Gophers will try a two-quarterback strategy.

"We say, 'Hey, you've got to come out and earn [your job] every day.'" Limegrover said. "What's happened is, both guys have done a really nice job, so it's hard to dismiss that just because we want to look at Philip a little more."

Besides, Gray isn't just any other player. He's been a leader, and has never lashed out or complained about his fate, even when asked to move back and forth between positions for his entire five-year career. He's been a unifying figure, and Jerry Kill and his staff clearly feel they owe Gray for his loyalty.

"I would love to see MarQueis have a tremendous football game," Kill said last week. "It would make me the happiest person in the world."

Limegrover said much the same: "You have a kid who's given an awful lot to the program. He's been the face of the program, and is playing awfully well."

Doege has thrown 38 touchdown passes and needs just 66 passing yards to eclipse 4,000 for a second consecutive season. But there's something he's never done: Won a bowl game.

Gray wishes he had accomplished what Doege has. Now he just wants to deny the Red Raiders quarterback that one last achievement.

"I just want to end my college career with a win," Gray said. "It's my last game as a Golden Gopher. I just want to end it the right way."

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