Blount: Shortell heroics could open Gophers' QB debate

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2012 - 3:22 AM

The sophomore quarterback was impressive in leading the Gophers to victory after MarQueis Gray got hurt. A quarterback controversy?

Even after the Gophers' 28-23 victory Saturday, Max Shortell still was scrambling. Asked whether he thought he had made a case to become the starting quarterback in the Gophers' next game against Syracuse, he stammered a little, then treated the question like a live grenade. "I don't really want to answer that,'' the sophomore said, looking more uncomfortable than he had all day.

Shortell had shown no such reticence on the field against Western Michigan. He calmly stepped in for injured starter MarQueis Gray with 4 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter and heaved a 32-yard strike to Derrick Engel on his first play. By the end of the half, Shortell had thrown two touchdowns --including a 53-yarder to A.J. Barker -- and bailed the Gophers out of a sluggish start.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill said it probably helped that Shortell, a sophomore, had no time to think about the situation. Both of them could be thinking about it plenty this week, depending on the severity of Gray's injury. Kill, too, ducked out of discussing whether Shortell's performance could merit any changes to the depth chart, but maybe a good QB debate is just what this team needs to stimulate more interest as it continues to figure things out.

On a glorious day, TCF Bank Stadium contained more empty seats than an Olympic venue. Before Shortell came in, a crowd generously announced at 44,921 gave its loudest ovations to legendary tackle Bobby Bell, former player and World War II veteran Ed Lechner and the Gophers women's hockey team that won the NCAA championship last spring.

And after? In addition to sending fans away happy and giving his team a 3-0 start, Shortell did enough to spark discussion about whether he should supplant Gray as the starter. At this point in the Gophers' fitful history, that's a plus.

"It's outstanding that Max was ready for his opportunity,'' Kill said. "When he went in, he didn't have time to think, so he just let 'er rip.

"In the fourth quarter, I said, 'Don't start thinking now. Just play.' He did a good job. There's no question it was a team win, but he certainly stepped up, or we would have been in trouble.''

Gray has a high ankle sprain, at least. When he returned to the sideline, his left knee was heavily bandaged and a walking boot encased his lower leg. He left the field on a cart, pulling around the corner of the end zone just as Barker caught a 9-yard touchdown pass that put the Gophers ahead for good.

Gray applauded his understudy, who had shown similar poise under similar circumstances a year ago. Last season, Gray cramped badly in the fourth quarter in the season opener at Southern California and had to leave the game with the Gophers trailing 19-10. On the second series of his college career, Shortell completed five of eight passes for 80 yards, culminating with a 12-yard touchdown toss to Brandon Green that pulled the Gophers within 19-17. The rally was short-circuited when he threw an interception on the Gophers' final possession, but the 6-foot-6 redhead from Kansas suddenly had people talking.

Saturday, Western Michigan had doused fans' enthusiasm when it recovered a fumble by Gray late in the first half, then scored with 4:37 left to take a 10-7 lead. Gray was injured on the first play of the ensuing drive.

"Our offense was kind of stalled,'' Shortell said of the Gophers, who had run only five plays in the first 10:23 of the second quarter. "I had to step up and get the offense rolling. We've all played in so many games that it's almost second nature to go in there and do what you need to do.''

Kill felt so comfortable with Shortell that he shifted his game plan, opting to open things up and throw more to take advantage of his second-stringer's arm. That could have been risky -- "If something bad happens and you get an interception, they fire the coach,'' Kill said -- but his philosophy of giving all his quarterbacks plenty of practice repetitions left him confident Shortell would handle the job.

Shortell admitted it has been challenging to spend most of this season watching, but he said his job is to remain positive and prepared. He wasn't thrilled about the way he finished the game; he misfired on a couple of passes and forced one into tight coverage for an interception.

He did play well enough, though, to prompt chatter about when he should get his next chance. Kill didn't go down that path, with the seriousness of Gray's injury still undetermined. But he shouldn't fear a little quarterback intrigue, particularly when there are so many seats waiting to be filled.

Rachel Blount • rblount@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Atlanta 6 FINAL
Detroit 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Houston 6
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Miami 1
Baltimore 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago Cubs 6 FINAL
San Francisco 8
Los Angeles 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox 1
San Diego 4 FINAL
Seattle 9
Cleveland 9 FINAL
Cincinnati 3
Milwaukee 2 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Texas 4 FINAL
Kansas City 5
Colorado 3 FINAL
Arizona 4
NY Mets 4 FINAL
Washington 5
Boston 8 Top 9th Inning
Minnesota 9
Toronto 0 FINAL
Baltimore 5
Oklahoma City 100 4th Qtr 4:15
Chicago 96
Dallas 9:30 PM
Portland
Calgary 4 FINAL(SO)
Boston 3
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Philadelphia 3
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Washington 1
Toronto 2 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Dallas 3 2nd OT :00
Florida 3
NY Islanders 4 3rd Prd 6:08
Nashville 3
Vancouver 0 2nd Prd 11:10
Arizona 1
Montreal 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Morgan State 76 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 89
Niagara 54 FINAL
Siena 71
Holy Cross 83 FINAL
Bucknell 90
Western Ky 88 FINAL
Charlotte 84
Navy 62 FINAL
Colgate 72
Temple 70 FINAL
East Carolina 56
UAB 59 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 62
Boston Univ 64 FINAL
Lafayette 89
American Univ 68 FINAL
Lehigh 62
Wisconsin 76 FINAL
Minnesota 63
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Saint Peters 63
Arkansas 78 FINAL
South Carolina 74
Morehead State 76 FINAL
UT Martin 65
USC Upstate 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 62
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
North Florida 71
Southern Ill 55 FINAL
Missouri State 48
Texas State 64 FINAL
Appalachian St 67
SC State 62 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 72
Delaware State 104 FINAL
Coppin State 92
Middle Tennessee 54 FINAL
FIU 59
Texas-Arlington 64 FINAL
Ga Southern 76
Norfolk State 80 FINAL
Hampton 69
NC A&T 58 FINAL
NC Central 69
Savannah State 57 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 72
Marshall 50 FINAL
Old Dominion 67
Rice 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 74
South Alabama 71 2nd Half 5:52
Arkansas State 63
Alabama State 41 2nd Half 15:30
Grambling St 26
Alabama A&M 36 2nd Half 11:50
Jackson State 49
Sam Houston St 43 2nd Half 15:30
Lamar 35
Georgia State 58 FINAL
ULM 50
Central Arkansas 49 2nd Half 3:31
Nicholls 64
Portland State 51 2nd Half 0:40
Northern Ariz 56
Southern U 31 2nd Half
Prairie View 44
Alcorn State 40 2nd Half 14:30
Texas Southern 50
Houston Baptist 58 2nd Half 5:58
TX A&M-CC 73
Ark-Little Rock 53 2nd Half 5:28
Louisiana 56
SE Louisiana 45 2nd Half 15:07
New Orleans 56
California 27 2nd Half
Arizona 48
Memphis 32 2nd Half 17:02
Connecticut 33
VA Commonwealth 23 2nd Half 18:56
Davidson 40
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Sacramento St 50 2nd Half 12:40
Southern Utah 55
Northwestern St 34 2nd Half 20:00
Stephen F Austin 52
North Texas 34 2nd Half 13:17
Texas-El Paso 58
Colorado 46 2nd Half 11:33
Washington 36
Idaho 37 2nd Half 15:33
Weber State 50
Abilene Christian 19 2nd Half
Incarnate Word 23
Eastern Wash 55 2nd Half 13:00
Idaho State 39
Marist 41 2nd Half
Quinnipiac 27
Eastern Ill 24 2nd Half
Belmont 47
Bradley 21 2nd Half
Drake 17
Cal State Fullerton 5 1st Half 14:54
UC Irvine 5
CS-Northridge 7 1st Half 12:47
Long Beach State 14
UC Riverside 12 1st Half 13:24
UC Davis 5
Stanford 10:00 PM
Arizona State
Utah 10:00 PM
Washington St
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 72 FINAL
Ole Miss 61
Manhattan 51 FINAL
Niagara 57
Massachusetts 63 FINAL
Richmond 67
Virginia 52 FINAL
Miami-Florida 62
Jacksonville St 45 FINAL
Belmont 55
Morgan State 65 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Campbell 65 FINAL
Winthrop 52
Furman 65 FINAL
Samford 54
Oregon 64 FINAL
Washington St 66
Indiana 52 FINAL
(23) Rutgers 63
Pepperdine 67 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 68
Auburn 47 FINAL
(18) Texas A&M 57
Morehead St 66 FINAL
Tennessee St 81
George Mason 43 FINAL
Saint Josephs 71
Western Carolina 53 FINAL
East Tenn St 73
Arizona 62 FINAL
UCLA 80
FIU 30 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Texas State 55 FINAL
Appalachian St 61
TX-Arlington 66 FINAL
Georgia Southern 41
SC State 57 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 56
Delaware State 51 FINAL
Coppin State 80
Portland 58 FINAL
Santa Clara 66
Norfolk State 49 FINAL
Hampton 64
Florida Atlantic 56 FINAL
UAB 59
NC A&T 67 FINAL
NC Central 46
Savannah State 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 51
Virginia Tech 51 FINAL
Pittsburgh 45
Central Arkansas 43 FINAL
Nicholls 53
Houston Baptist 48 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 73
Gardner-Webb 70 FINAL
Radford 56
Georgia 75 FINAL
Missouri 64
Old Dominion 67 FINAL
Marshall 55
Ark-Little Rock 68 FINAL
Louisiana 66
South Alabama 60 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Georgia State 66 FINAL
ULM 61
Sam Houston St 73 FINAL
Lamar 92
SE Louisiana 75 FINAL
New Orleans 84
Northwestern St 45 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 56
Alabama A&M 58 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Alabama State 68 FINAL
Grambling 62
Southern U 78 FINAL
Prairie View 50
Alcorn State 55 FINAL
Texas Southern 73
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 54 FINAL
Mercer 75
Abilene Christian 72 FINAL
Incarnate Word 62
La Salle 60 FINAL
Rhode Island 65
Illinois 71 FINAL
Nebraska 86
TX-San Antonio 60 FINAL
Rice 49
Valparaiso 55 FINAL
Oakland 70
Missouri State 65 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Georgia Tech 64 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 84
Charlotte 72 FINAL
Western Ky 80
Texas-El Paso 69 FINAL
North Texas 61
Wichita State 77 FINAL
Evansville 63
Loyola-Chicago 64 FINAL
Northern Iowa 69
Bradley 70 FINAL
Drake 86
Presbyterian 54 2nd Half 2:53
High Point 67
Vanderbilt 47 2nd Half 7:12
(12) Kentucky 54
Colorado 43 2nd Half 16:08
USC 37
San Francisco 45 2nd Half 15:53
Pacific 43
Idaho State 39 2nd Half 11:42
Eastern Washington 43
Weber State 24 2nd Half 15:10
Idaho 44
Purdue 32 2nd Half
Minnesota 45
Cal-Irvine 10 1st Half 12:48
Cal State Fullerton 14
Long Beach St 3 1st Half 15:50
CS-Northridge 9
Hawaii 10 1st Half 14:25
UC Santa Barbara 11
UC Davis 12 1st Half 11:31
UC-Riverside 4
Northern Ariz 15 1st Half 13:03
Portland State 10
Southern Utah 4 1st Half 14:51
Sacramento St 13
Utah 10:30 PM
Washington
BYU 10:30 PM
St Marys-CA
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close