After a blowout win over the New Hampshire Wildcats just one week ago, head coach Jerry Kill and the Minnesota Golden Gophers faced a tougher task on Saturday as the Western Michigan Broncos rolled into TCF Bank Stadium hoping to pull off the upset.
Gophers senior quarterback MarQueis Gray didn’t account for much passing during the team’s last victory but did key a number of important drives, as he ran in for two touchdowns, including a personal-best 75-yard score.
Gray and the Gophers wouldn’t have quite as much luck this time around, with the offense struggling to get going early on, as a stingy Bronco defense stood its ground in the first quarter, holding the Minnesota offense to 97 yards and a 7-3 lead.
The second quarter brought about the most theatrics that TCF Bank Stadium had seen so far in 2012, as Gray would need to be helped off the field after an apparent ankle injury on the first play of a drive midway thought the quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Max Shortell, who saw cleanup action last week, was thrust into duty and immediately responded, leading a quick, 65-yard drive downfield for junior wide receiver A.J. Barker’s second score of the game.
They weren’t done there, as a quick defensive stop gave the Gophers a 45-yard field and 1:32 to work with before the end of the quarter.
Once again, Shortell stepped up, leading another scoring drive in less than a minute, once again capped off by a pass to Barker, this one of 53 yards, giving the Gophers a 21-10 halftime lead.
The Broncos came out swinging in the second half, as senior quarterback Alex Carder would lead a 71-yard scoring drive to start of the third quarter.
Impressively, Shortell would respond on the following drive, methodically leading the Gopher offense downfield, capped off by a Drew Goodger touchdown pass to push the Minnesota lead back into double digits.
Western Michigan made it interesting in the fourth quarter, scoring a late touchdown to reduce the deficit to 28-23, but a failed two-point conversion would keep the damage to a minimum for Minnesota.
The Gophers failed to run out the clock in the end and would give the Broncos a 72-yard field and 1:32 to work with in a last-gasp effort to steal the game, but a failed fourth-down conversion would seal the deal on Minnesota's 28-23 win, giving the Gophers their third consecutive win to open the season.
A detailed medical release on the condition of MarQueis Gray has not yet been made available, and a clean bill of health would certainly lead to a bit of a quarterback controversy leading into practice this week.
If today’s play by Shortell is any indication of his true potential, however, the team will be in good hands either way next Saturday evening when it plays host to the Syracuse Orange.
Photos via thedailygopher.com