If the Gophers have a slogan this week, it's one word: Heal.
"This is a real critical week for us," coach Jerry Kill said Sunday. "We need to get healthy."
There are lots of players who are banged up to various degrees, but Kill singled out one in particular. "We need MarQueis -- badly," Kill said of MarQueis Gray, his senior quarterback who injured his left knee and ankle against Western Michigan two weeks ago. Trouble is, the coach said after some initial improvement a day or two after the injury, Gray's progress has "leveled off." As a result, he enters the bye week with no idea if Gray will be well enough to quarterback the Gophers against Northwestern on Oct. 13.
With Gray out, the Gophers have no options at quarterback behind sophomore Max Shortell, not if they want to preserve freshman Philip Nelson's season of eligibility for use later. Shortell has been good as a fill-in for Gray, but has thrown four interceptions in two games. And he was worried about Shortell taking too many hits from the defense after becoming fatigued during the second half.
"If Max goes down, what are you going to do then?," Kill said. "We've certainly laid awake at night hoping we're doing the right things."
One thing he's certain is right: Don't play Gray until he's fully recovered. He's only able to jog at the moment, and Kill won't risk his health further by playing him while he's limited. It's the same principle that kept him from using safety Brock Vereen to defend the run against Iowa. "We needed Brock Vereen desperately. Rolling him down as the extra guy in the box, with the knee that got hurt (last week in practice), I didn't think it was worth the risk," Kill said. "So we played him in nickel (coverage). That hurt us in run support, because he's a hell of a football player."
Kill sounded as though he may be contemplating a way to use both Gray and Shortell when both are available. "If you've got a situation where it could help you win, and take some hits off the quarterback, you certainly can do that," he said.
Kill said Devon Wright injured his shoulder while being blocked during a kick return on Saturday. Also injured: defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli, though he didn't idenfity the injury.