Gray Matters, Falling Just Shortell: Trojans Squeak by Gophers in Season Opener

Posted: September 4, 2011 by Kodi in Gopher Redemption, NCAA

When people go back to work after the long Labor Day weekend if they happened to remember to talk about the Gophers game there are a few talking points that will have to be discussed. If they are a douche USC fan they will talk about how great their young QB Matt Barkley is and his record breaking connection with WR Robert Woods. If they are Gopher alumni or ultimate homers they will talk about how good Shortell looked in the second half and brush aside MarQueis Gray’s contributions. Finally they will talk about what went wrong on the Gophers final play during the 4th quarter a pass that turned out to be a jump ball that was picked off by the other team.

The Gophers were playing a Trojan team that constantly pissed away leads in the 4th quarter and had lost 2 games on last minute Field Goals. The Gophers were hoping that Max Shortell would be able to lead the Gophers down with less than a minute left and give their Kicker a chance at the win. First of all even if Minnesota was able to get into Chris Hawthorne’s range it doesn’t mean he would have been a lock to make it. Hawthorne had a already missed 2 FG’s a 51 yarder that was blocked and a 42 yarder that was short at the end of the first half. Hawthorne has very little experience kicking a football at all, with just two years under his belt, but never has he felt the pressure of kicking in front of thousands of people cheering for or against him.

The Gophers were torched by Matt Barkley and Robert Woods over and over again, so much so that they set Trojan records. Barkley had a a school record 34 passes for 304 yards even though they were held scoreless in the second half. Woods set a school record for his 17 receptions, 177 yards and 3 first half TDs. The Gophers top 3 tacklers were starting CBs Brock Vereen (13) and Troy Stoudemire (11) and S Kim Royston (10) which shows you how successful the USC’s passing game was. The Trojans also had 111 team rushing yards and were led by RB D.J. Morgan’s 18 rushes for 75 yards.

The Gophers had a balanced offensive attack rushing for 131 yards, split between starting RB Bennett (56) and QBs Gray (65) and Shortell (10). The Gophers had 34 rushing attempts and attempted just 26 passes, Gray and Shortell had nearly identical numbers until the final play of the game, Gray finished the game 7-12 with 94 yards and Shortell was 7-12  with 98 yards and a TD until he finished the Gophers chances with a last minute INT.

There are going to be whispers about who should start behind Center for the Golden Gophers but I don’t know if we should all jump ship and start a true Freshman. He was ranked 21st out of all QBs in Rivals.com 2011 scouting class and was the 5th overall prospect out of Kansas. He led his Bishop Miege High School to just a 6-4 record in his Senior year but threw for 2643 yards with 21 TDs and 7 INTs while completing 53 percent of his 277 passes.

Shortell looked good in the Gophers game besides forcing that last ball, but even that play was a positive because at least he was confident enough to make that pass, and hopefully in the future he will make that pass. Not to mention McKnight was livid on the field practically begging the Refs to throw a flag. Shortell handled the decision well saying in his press-conference after the game that “I’m a competitor. There were two guys going after it. Our guy played hard and their guy played hard and their guy made a play. I hollered, but I’m a competitor. There are no excuses”.

MarQueis Gray was pulled from the game because as Coach Kill said after the game that “[MarQueis] was cramping in his throwing hand and his legs and I didn’t want [him] in passing situations, all of a sudden he cramps and the ball comes out.” Gray said that “it kept bothering me for a couple plays and wouldn’t leave, which is why I came out. I tried to get stretched but it wasn’t working”. Personally I feel that there were some nerves that played into Gray’s performance but I also feel that Kill finally opened up the offense when Shortell was put in the game and Gray was never given that opportunity.

It is hard to say who should start but if the Gophers do decide to quickly change QBs it might benefit their team. Not to say that I don’t like Gray at QB but I know what that guy can do at WR and he could be a legit NFL prospect at that position. The Gophers would have a big nimble QB in 6’6” Shortell who has better accuracy and a decent ability to scramble while drastically improving the Gophers WRs by playing Gray opposite of McKnight. I think that before Coach Kill makes a decision he needs to allow Gray an opportunity to really show what type of QB he could be.

All I know is that even though the Gophers lost the game on Saturday their performance should ignite ambition throughout Gopher Nation. Kill was fired up after the game commenting about losing saying that “it leaves a bitter taste when you feel you should have won but it is what it is. We’ll build from it. We’re going to keep working and move the program forward”.

Kill clearly lit a fire under the asses of all the Gophers during his halftime speech because his boys came out with a completely different tempo and Kill reiterated that “we looked nervous and uncomfortable in the first half. We settled down in the second half. Give them credit, they bowed up and we competed our tails off in the second. If we had played with that confidence and intensity in the first half, maybe it would have been a different story”. Kill has a good track record of rebuilding Football teams but he has never done it on a stage as big as the Gophers. The new HC has said and done all the right things and I am completely sure that whatever decision he makes at this time will be in the best interest of the Gophers program.

Game Review:

The Golden Gophers were left one last present from the Tim Brewster Era of Minnesota football, opening the season in the Coliseum against a Southern California powerhouse. Jerry Kill and his boys did an admirable job while in Los Angeles and nearly squeaked away with an upsetting victory, but the stars just weren’t aligned for the Gopher football squad, but their performance should instill a lot of hope for the program this season and definitely for the future.

Minnesota came out of the gates incredibly amped up and after starting the game with a false start penalty the Gophers had what turned out to be their longest rush of the game, a 25 yarder by Duane Bennett. Gray rushed the ball on the very next play and lost ahold of the rock but luckily for the Gophers Ed Olson fell on the ball. The Gophers sputtered after a 13 yard reception by TE Eric Lair and had a 51 yard Field Goal attempt blocked.

USC got the ball for the first time and Matt Barkley looked for WR Robert Woods early and often. Barkley targeted Woods 7 times and the star WR had 5 receptions for 33 yards and a 7 yard TD and the Trojans felt that they should rush for the two point conversion which ultimately failed but USC still had a 6-0 lead. Minnesota shot themselves in the foot during their first drive of the 2nd quarter with a delay of game called on Gray and a false start on Chris Bunders. The Trojans got the ball and Barkley went back to throwing it to Robert Woods, connecting on a 9 yard catch then catching a 43 yard TD a play later and although the Gophers were called for pass interference Woods hauled in his 2nd TD of the half.

Minnesota’s only first half scoring drive came after a 15 yard personal foul during a kick return brought the ball to midfield. Gray connected with Da’Jon McKnight for a 17 reception and the Gophers were quickly at the Trojans 36 yard line. Another personal foul by Trojan Nick Perry had the Gophers at the 11 yard line and knocking on the front door but ultimately their dink and dunk offense sputtered and Chris Hawthorne knocked one in from 21 yards away to cut the USC lead to 12-3. Barkley and Robert Woods however were not done and had 4 more connections on the next drive for another 30 yards and their 3rd TD connection of the half, giving the Trojans a 19-3 lead. Woods finished the first half with 11 receptions and 115 yards with all 3 Trojan TDs.

The Gophers Trojans game was a tale of two halves with the Trojans dominating the first half while the Gophers made an admirable comeback attempt in the second half. The first series that the Gophers had came after Brock Vereen forced Robert Woods to fumble the ball and Mike Rallis picked it up and returned it a couple of yards to USC’s 30. Gray found Eric Lair for a 17 yard gain on Minnesota’s first play of the half and the Gophers were quickly inside the red-zone and knocking at the gates again. This time the Gophers would not be denied and after a 4 yard rush by Gray Duane Bennett ran it in 9 yards for the Gophers first TD of the 2011 season.

Other than the epic connection between Barkley and Woods the USC offense wasn’t as potent as some had expected against a suspect Minnesota defense. The Gophers got the ball back with a little over a minute left in the 3rd and started with a couple of Gray rush attempts, but the QB was having issues and couldn’t stop cramping up. In walked in Max Shortell and the QB controversy that may have started in Dinkytown. Shortell threw two incompletions to finish that drive but not when he got his second chance.

Shortell’s nerves seem to calm while Gray was in the locker room getting an ivy and he came out to complete a 23 yard pass to Marcus Jones, followed by an 11 yard pass to DaJon McKnight and eventually another 12 yarder to McKnight and another 22 yarder to Jones before connecting with Brandon Green for a 12 yard TD and the true Freshman’s first passing TD of his career. After the extra point the Gophers had cut the game to 19-17 and it looked like the Trojans may have started to let one slip away.

The Gophers defense was able to hold off the Trojans offense for the 5th time of the half and gave the ball back to the offense in hopes of storming downfield for a chance to win the game. Shortell found Malcolm Moulton for a 10 yard gain and found McKnight for another 8 yards quickly moving the Gophers from their own 9 yard to the 27 and Gophers fans started to think they had hope. All of that was snatched away when Shortell forced a ball to McKnight but didn’t make the necessary back shoulder throw that would have ensured only his player could get to the ball. Rather Shortell threw it towards the middle of the field rather than the sideline and Trojan CB Torin Harris came down with the ball and locked up USC’s victory.

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