Gophers, QB show they are a work in progress

  • Article by: MICHAEL RAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2011 - 1:24 AM

MarQueis Gray, though erratic and tentative at times Saturday, showed glimmers of great potential in the second half.

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Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray, left, fumbled the ball that was recovered by Nebraska and run in for a touchdown in the first half.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The evaluation of MarQueis Gray continued in a 41-14 loss to Nebraska on Saturday much as it has for most of this 1-6 Gophers season.

He was often erratic and tentative throwing the ball. But he showed hints that he is taking steps toward becoming a productive Big Ten quarterback. He couldn't move the ball when the Gophers needed it most. Then again, it wasn't entirely his fault. His fumble was returned for a touchdown that essentially sealed the game in the second quarter. But after halftime, he and the offense came to life -- outscoring Nebraska 14-7, albeit in a too-little-too-late scenario.

His development is not black and white. It is, well, Gray.

"As a whole offense, we started off slow. We always seem to make good plays and then turn around and have bad plays that cost us," Gray said. "We need to get off to a better start, and get better play from me, also."

Gray is, like so much of the team, a work in progress -- and the rawness of so many players on offense surely doesn't help a quarterback learning on the job. But unlike some of his younger teammates, Gray, a junior who played extensively as a wide receiver last season, has a shorter window of time during which to progress.

Gray's promising moments Saturday came in the second half. A trick play in the third quarter helped Da'Jon McKnight get open deep, and Gray delivered perhaps his best pass of the day, hitting McKnight for a 53-yard completion that led to a touchdown. He later directed an 89-yard fourth-quarter touchdown march, completing five of six passes for 54 yards along the way.

The problem? It was 34-0 before that first glimpse of ball movement. When it mattered Saturday, the Gophers offense was nearly invisible. Gray completed only two of eight passes for 9 yards before the break.

"If felt like that play gave us the juice we needed to spark our team," Gray said of the long pass to McKnight. "We didn't have any plays like that in the first half."

Gray was 9-for-18 passing in the game; for the season, he is completing less than 50 percent of his passes. He came in as the team's leading rusher and again was tops on the team with 67 yards against Nebraska.

"I would have loved to see him keep playing another quarter," said coach Jerry Kill, who added he was not tempted to use freshman Max Shortell on Saturday. "He seemed to settle down and get better. We had some snaps that weren't very good, and we put him in some bad positions at times. But I do think he's starting to settle in and be a leader. ... It's just a unique situation to be in, and all you can do is continue to push forward."

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