ANN ARBOR, MICH. - Max Shortell felt responsible after the game, sounded almost apologetic. I'm the reason, the freshman said in so many words, that the Gophers got such substandard play Saturday on one side of the ball.
The Gophers' defense, he meant.
"That was tough on the defense," Shortell said of his ability to generate first downs and give the defense time to rest. "Our defense was out [on the field] pretty much the entire first half -- pretty much the whole game. And it's because we couldn't convert."
The Gophers were 0-for-11 on third downs, and never even came within a yard of picking one up. The only time they advanced the ball past the first-down sticks on third down, receiver Brandon Green fumbled.
Shortell finished with 104 yards on 11-for-22 passing, and he was sacked three times. But he never threw an interception, was careful to keep the ball secure even when constantly under pressure, and he had handful of impressive completions, including a 13-yarder to fellow freshman Devin Crawford-Tufts.
"I think he held up there, he took some shots. He's a tough kid," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "I appreciate the work he's given us."
He might return to his reserve role next week, however. MarQueis Gray's turf toe caused him to run gingerly this week, so Kill and his staff told Shortell on Thursday he would make his starting debut on one of college football's most difficult home turfs.
"You get your first start, you're Max Shortell, and you're at the University of Michigan," commiserated Kill. "He'll get nothing but better."
Mental mistakes irk coach
The difference in physical abilities, he can live with. It's the mental mistakes that bothered Kill.
"They're a bigger, stronger, faster football team right now than we are. I'm not going to french-coat anything," Kill said of 19th-ranked Michigan. "If a team is more athletic than you are, then you better be very mentally sharp. You can't make mental mistakes."
But the Gophers did. Fumbles snuffed two of Minnesota's three excursions into Michigan territory. A holding penalty brought back Marcus Jones' 96-yard kickoff return. Pass interference bailed the Wolverines out of a first-and-20 situation. One punt traveled 14 yards, another went 9.
"The principles when you turn programs around -- No. 1 is discipline. And we're not a disciplined group," Kill said. "That's not blaming the kids, that's the coach."
The Gophers committed nine penalties, costing 74 yards. It's the third time in five games they've been flagged eight or more times.
"Coach Kill let us know we are a very undisciplined team," said senior cornerback Kyle Henderson. "People are beginning to really look at ourselves in the mirror and decide how much we want this."
• The Gophers had some injury problems, but won't know for a few days how serious they are. Receiver Malcolm Moulton appeared to sprain an ankle in the first quarter, and he didn't return to the game. Da'Jon McKnight grabbed his knee after one collision, and didn't catch another pass.
• Both starting offensive tackles, Ed Olson and Jimmy Gjere, went out during the game, and tailback Donnell Kirkwood didn't play after the first quarter.
• Several Gophers received their first action, or at least their first extended action, of the season. Freshman Crawford-Tufts caught two passes for 15 yards, and freshman tight end Drew Goodger caught one for 3 yards. Former tailback Lamonte Edwards made his first tackle as a linebacker, and offensive lineman Marek Lenkiewicz made his first appearance.
• Tailback Devon Wright received his first collegiate carry, though he lost a yard. David Cobb, however, took over when Kirkwood went out and gained 54 yards on eight carries, including one 29-yard romp.
Worst loss for Kill
The loss was the worst of Kill's career, eclipsing a 62-7 loss to Northwest Missouri State in 2000, while he was head coach at Emporia State. ... Only two losses in Gopher history have been more lopsided: An 84-13 crushing by Nebraska in 1983 and a 63-0 loss at Oklahoma in 1986. The Gophers also lost 58-0 to Colorado in 1991.