MarQueis to Success

Posted: September 18, 2011 by Kodi in Gopher Redemption, NCAA

How can Gopher Nation improve from this victory?

Is Donnell Kirkwood the new lead RB?

Was there ever a QB controversy in Dinkytown?

Gopher Redemption: MarQueis to Success

The Gophers welcomed Jerry Kill back to the sideline that he collapsed and suffered a seizure on just one week ago. Kill was in the hospital ‘til midweek but made his way back to the practice field by Thursday and told his team he planned on coaching from the sidelines, not a box, this weekend against Miami, Ohio. Jerry said that “I’m a small-town guy that’s been given a great life and I’m going to live it to its fullest, I’ve been given a second chance and I’m not taking any shortcuts. I’m not going to have somebody tell me I can’t do something” and there has never been any questions about HC Kill’s dedication to his team and his University.

Minnesota is coming off of a devastating loss and traumatizing event after last week’s game against New Mexico St. When asked about the situation QB MarQueis Gray said “I think any team would be worried about their HC when they seem something like that. . . We were down a little bit this week but when he came back on Thursday it just gave us that much more momentum”. The Gophers had a lot of emotions heading into this game and they knew that they couldn’t overlook the Redhawks and had to prepare well for this game.

Gray explained that “going into the first practice we all came together. We had to come out strong even though Coach Kill wasn’t there we still had to execute”. The Gophers knew that their preparation for the Aggies left them surprised and unable to dig themselves out of a big hole early in the game and that couldn’t happen again against Miami.

Miami hasn’t played a Big Ten opponent since 2009 when they lost at Northwestern. The Redhawks haven’t played the Gophers since a triple OT 35-41 loss at the Metrodome on Sept. 8 of 2007 which turned out to be Minnesota’s only victory of the year. Both of those losses have been part of a 14 game losing streak for Miami against non-conference opponents away from Ohio.

Saturday the Gophers looked to make it a 15 game losing streak and hoped to not start the season 0-3 for the first time in Minnesota Football history. Miami has had two weeks to prepare for this game against the Gophers after a 17-6 defeat against the Missouri Tigers but their squad showed promise. The Redhawks kept shooting themselves in the foot, Fumbling the ball 3 times and throwing an INT but their defense was able to keep them in it the entire game.

The Gophers didn’t allow an opening drive TD for the first time this season but weren’t able to get their first defensive stop allowing a FG. The Gophers however were able to score 13 unanswered points and took the lead for the first time all year after Donnell Kirkwood’s 4 yard TD run early in the 2nd. Gophers Kicker Chris Hawthorne was 1-4 in FG attempts and 5-5 in PATs coming into the game. Hawthorne was 3/3 in FG attempts against Miami but missed his first PAT and it almost came back to bite the Gophers in the ass.

The Gophers entered the 4th quarter tied at 16 but QB MarQueis Gray made a great play-action pass on 3rd and goal to John Rabe from the Power I formation. The following Redhawks drive the Gophers defense held strong and forced Miami to punt and RB Du’ane Bennett came off the edge and blocked Redhawks Kicker Zac Murphy’s punt. Bennett not only blocked it straight into the air but somehow he was able to have the ball tipped back to him before hitting the ground and he scampered in a couple of yards for a TD. The last blocked punt for Minnesota took place in 2009 when current Gopher LB Keanon Cooper blocked one vs. Illinois and was returned for a TD by Ben Kuznia.

Bennett came into this game as Minnesota’s primary RB but including today’s game he has 31 carries for just 90 yards. The Gophers Coaching staff gave Donnell Kirkwood a heavy load against the Redhawks and he racked up 55 yards and a TD on 13 carries. In three games the Gophers RBs have a total of 156 rushing yards and 3 TDs. Coming into the game against Miami the Gophers were ranked 66th in rushing offense averaging 145.5 yards per game.

MarQueis Gray showed the entire Gopher Nation why there is no QB controversy in Minnesota. The Junior player from Indianapolis had 33 carries for 157 yards, 0 TDs and a long run of 18 yards. On Saturday Gray ran 25 times for 171 yards and broke Sandy Stephens QB rushing record that was held for nearly 50 years. He was the first Gopher QB to run for more than 100 yards in back to back games since Billy Cockerham did it in 1999 against Indiana and Iowa. After the game Gray was asked about breaking the record but the young man took the high road saying “[someone] told me about the record but I’m just happy about the win”.

Gray had a great rushing game and came through in the clutch reaching first downs on two separate 4th down QB sneaks. Gray had a career long 37 yard sprint late in the 1st quarter, a 20 yard run and two 14 yarders in the 3rd,  as well as a 28 yard scamper early in the 4th quarter. Gray had what could have been his biggest rush on 4th and 1 at Miami’s 38 yard line when he rolled out of the pocket and broke a tackle in the backfield that allowed him to get just past the first down marker for a gain of 3. It allowed the Gophers to run 2 more minutes off of the clock and kill some of the Redhawks timeouts. Senior Redhawks DB Anthony Kokal when asked of Gray said “it’s tough to play a guy like that, a guy that can break tackles like that. He’s such a big body. You try to prepare for it, but you don’t know what you’re going to get until its game day. You’ve got to give him credit. He definitely can play”.

Gray’s passing game was up and down, starting the game 8/9 with 146 yards and completing a 59 yarder to WR Malcolm Moulton on his first attempt. That was the Gophers season’s longest single play and was also career highs for Gray and Moulton. Gray finished the game 3/12 adding just 17 more yards but a huge 1 yard TD pass on a key 3rd and goal. Gray was 11/21 with 163 yards, the lone TD and no INTs but his accuracy was struggling in the latter portion. Gray had a great game and carried this team on his back earning the respect of Miami HC Don Treadwell who said they “had a lot of respect for him coming in, and he just demonstrated why we had so much respect for him in my opinion”.

He had a few balls sail on him that led to WR Da’Jon McKnight showing a little frustration on the field but he also missed a wide open Eric Lair. Lair has been a piece of this Gopher’s offense that had just 2 catches for 30 yards in the previous 2 games. This week he hauled in 2 more balls for 55 yards but was targeted more often than he has been in the past and they should incorporate him more in the future. Overall MarQueis looked a whole lot more confident out on the field with the ball and his accuracy is questionable at this point but will only improve with more playing time.

The Gophers absolutely have to improve on defense if they expect to turn this ship around and they made the play they had to finishing off Miami. The Redhawks were able to pass all over the Gophers and QB Zac Dysert had a chance to win the game in the final seconds. Safety Kim Royston was able to pry the ball out of WR Chris Givens hands and secure the Gophers 23-29 victory. Dysert said after the game “[that] kind of opportunity is definitely a learning experience and something we have to build on as a team” and for the first time in a while it isn’t the Gophers who came away with a moral victory.

Dysert did have a good game carving the Gophers defense and finishing 27/47 with 325 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. The pick was made by Minnesota CB Troy Stoudermire his second in as many weeks and just his 3rd career INT on a pass in the red-zone late in the second half. Redhawks WR Nick Harwell was Dysert’s favorite target pulling in 12 balls for 162 yards including a 66 yard catch early in the game. This is the third consecutive week that the Gophers pass defense has allowed one player more than 85 receiving yards. The only big difference this week is that Harwell wasn’t able to get into the end-zone where Rogers and Green had scored 5 times in the previous 2 games.

The biggest surprise for Gopher Nation was their ability to get after the QB late in the game and even recorded their first Sack of the season. Miami HC Treadwell was asked about his QBs need to scramble so often and responded by saying “I don’t know if people know this or not but Minnesota has a tremendous pass rush. . . and they did a good job taking advantage of our youth at times”. Mark that one down in the record books folks because the Gophers did get at Dysert but they were one of the worst pass rushing units in all of College Football last season and had 0 coming in to this game. Gophers fans can only hope that this type of game will be something the defensive unit can continue to produce because it will dramatically improve their pass defense as well.

The Gophers win was HC Jerry Kill’s first in Minnesota and improves their record at TCF Bank Stadium to 6-10. Minnesota is now 3-0 all-time against the Redhawks and are 27-3-1 all-time against the Mid-American Conference. The Gophers had a good crowd behind them and made Jerry Kill 3-0 in games in which he was returning from a seizure. They have another chance at redemption next week when they play the North Dakota St. Jack-Rabbits who came into The Bank last year and gave the Gophers one of their worst losses in the programs history. You better believe Coach Kill is going to have this team ready to perform and hopefully can string a couple of W’s together and take a few more steps in the right direction.

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