Gray not one to avoid contact

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2012 - 10:17 PM
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Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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MarQueis Gray's 75-yard Roadrunner act to the end zone is the scramble that most people will remember about the Gophers' victory over New Hampshire on Saturday. And the 11-yard dance through the secondary for another score won't be far behind.

But just a hunch: Chris Beranger's memory of Gray on the run might be a little different. And probably comes with a couple of aspirin.

Beranger is a New Hampshire safety who was patrolling the middle of the field in the third quarter when Gray tucked the ball and head for the first-down marker on a third-and-four. The players met just across midfield -- and suddenly, Beranger was sprawled on his back. If it had been a real Roadrunner cartoon, tire tracks would have been visible across his chest.

"It felt pretty good. It's good that I'm 6-4 and he's shorter than me," Gray said of the two-car pileup. "He got low, but somehow I was able to use my power to get through him. It's nice to know I'm capable of doing that."

Nice for the quarterback. But what about the coach, whose season depends in part on keeping his senior quarterback healthy?

Jerry Kill's response: What can you do?

"Well, he's 250 pounds, so you're not going to change him," Kill said with a shrug. "He does a pretty good job of getting out of bounds when he needs [to]. When you run the ball inside like that, sometimes you're better off being aggressive than being soft."

Kill believes Gray's training as a receiver, a position he played for two seasons, makes him less likely to slide in front of tacklers, or take a knee when in a crowd.

"He was asked to block -- he threw a nice block [Saturday], too," Kill said. "He's going to be who he is. You can't change everything. We haven't had him long enough to change all that."

Redshirt decisions

The Gophers have 24 players, by Kill's count, eligible to take a redshirt season this year, and he hopes to preserve the year of eligibility for all two dozen. But that's another area that is largely out of his hands, he said.

"Can we do that? We'll see," he said. "Injuries control a lot of that."

Injuries and temptation, he admitted. Watching talented players in practice, but telling them not to dress Saturday, isn't easy, the coach said.

"It's hard, because there's pressure to win -- 'Let's get going here,'" he said. "But at the same time, we've got to build the thing up for us to have the physical bodies and depth to be a really good football team. So it's a hard match to do sometimes."

Specifically? Kill cited "three offensive linemen that are very talented young people," an apparent reference to freshmen Isaac Hayes, Ben Lauer and Jonah Pirsig. "Can we send them out there and play them right now? Yeah," Kill said. "But they're not going to be as strong and physical as we need them to be. If we redshirt them, over the next three or four years, they're going to be very strong and talented people. ... So it's a balancing act right now."

Start the rally cry

If the Gophers fall behind in the fourth quarter Saturday, don't panic. The Gophers will have them where they want them. According to BTN research, Minnesota's rally to beat UNLV in triple overtime in the season opener marked the ninth time since 2009 that the Gophers won a game after trailing in the fourth quarter.

That's the most in Division I over those three-plus seasons.

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