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September 17, 2012

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MarQueis Gray’s high ankle sprain has potentially changed quarterback plans for the Gophers.  With Gray out indefinitely, sophomore Max Shortell will be the starter and freshman Philip Nelson, who was highly probable for a redshirt season, is the No. 2 quarterback.

If Shortell becomes injured or sick, then Nelson is the next man up on the limited quarterback roster.  Nelson has been the No. 3 quarterback behind Gray and ahead of fellow freshman Mitch Leidner who has been seeing scout team duties in practice.  Redshirt freshman Dexter Foreman is another reserve quarterback.

Nelson is a high potential player but one obviously without college experience.  Prep recruiting authority Tom Lemming rated Nelson the No. 2 pro-style high school quarterback prospect in the country last year.  Nelson’s potential in throwing and running the ball is a good fit in Minnesota’s balanced offense.

But the hope by the Gophers coaches is Nelson won’t have to see game action because once he’s on the field his redshirt eligibility disappears.  A redshirt season for Nelson in 2012 means he’s still a freshman in football eligibility next season, while Shortell is a junior.  That sets up a possible scenario where Shortell could be the starter for two seasons as a junior and senior while Nelson will have two remaining years of eligibility after Shortell completes his career at Minnesota.

The 6-6, 237-pound Shortell has a lumbering running style that makes him a big target for tacklers and potential injury.  He would be well advised to slide at the end of runs whenever possible, avoiding the kind of near head-on collision he escaped from last Saturday against Western Michigan.

Gray’s skill set begins with his running, while Shortell’s starts with passing.  For that reason the Gophers coaches will make changes to the offense with Shortell as the starter and he won’t be asked to run with the ball nearly as many plays as offered to Gray.  That will help limit Shortell’s exposure to injury.

Notes:

Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit praised Shortell who replaced the injured Gray in the first half with the Gophers leading 10-7 on Saturday.  He said Shortell, who threw three touchdown passes including two in the first half, was “probably the difference” in the game’s outcome.

“Your whole game plan changes,” Cubit said of the switch in quarterbacks.  “Now all of a sudden—no offense to Gray—you have a guy that can throw it around a little bit more.  He came in at a time Minnesota was struggling, and he was able to give them a much needed boost.”

Junior Gophers’ defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman didn’t have a sack in the 28-23 win over Western Michigan, leaving his total for the season at three after being double and triple teamed by the Broncos.  Was he frustrated by all the extra attention from blockers?

“It’s just part of football,” Hageman said.  “I get mad.  I just use that for fuel. …”

Sophomore Gophers’ running back Donnell Kirkwood ran for a single game career high of 120 yards.  He credited his resolve to be more of a physical runner for the success after having 71 yards in the previous game against New Hampshire.  “I think I kind of got away from that last week, trying to make the big play,” Kirkwood said.

Junior Minnesota wide receiver A.J. Barker, who caught three touchdown passes yesterday, isn’t on scholarship but look for that to change, according to what Gophers coach Jerry Kill said on WCCO Radio yesterday.

The 3-0 Gophers play 1-2 Syracuse in a 7 p.m. game Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.  The game is being billed as “Fill Our House” by the Minnesota Athletic Department and $10 tickets are available to the public.  Those tickets can be purchased now via www.mygophersports.com or by calling 612-624-8080.

Jason LaFrenz, Gophers’ associate athletics director, said the season tickets total for students is 4,000.  Last year it was 5,600.

There’s no accusing suspended wide receiver Jerome Simpson of not being optimistic about the Vikings.  Asked last Thursday what he thinks his team is capable of this season, he said:  “Super Bowl.  I really do because we have so many championship people at positions.  … We got a great quarterback, Christian (Ponder).  We’ve got so much talent on this team.  Anything short of a Super Bowl is lost in my book.”

The Vikings looked more like a team headed for a repeat of last year’s 3-13 record yesterday in a 23-20 loss to the mediocre Colts in Indianapolis.  Mistakes, including three personal foul penalties in the third quarter, hurt the Vikings on both offense and defense.  Despite playing against a Colts offensive line that has been shuffled with personnel changes, and a rookie Indianapolis quarterback in Andrew Luck, the Vikings couldn’t make enough big plays to win.

The Vikings continue to rotate defensive linemen in and out, much more than in past seasons.  KFAN radio analyst Pete Bercich reported during the first half that starting tackle Kevin Williams was so upset he threw his helmet on the sidelines.

The Vikings will pull off one of the NFL’s biggest upsets of the season next Sunday at Mall of America Field if they can defeat the 2-0 49ers, a Super Bowl favorite and perhaps the league’s best club.  The two teams met in the preseason and even then the 49ers looked superior, easily winning 17-6.

Mike Tice had to handle tempermental Randy Moss when Tice was head coach of the Vikings.  Now Tice is offensive coordinator of the Bears and has an emotional quarterback in Jay Cutler who wasn’t happy with the play of some teammates in last Thursday’s 23-10 loss to the Packers. The Bears played poorly at times in that game, showing a leaky offensive line and receivers who under performed.

St. Paul native and NBA referee Ken Mauer is supportive of the NFL officials who aren’t working so far this season because of a lockout.  Mauer said those officials are being told to take fewer benefits, and he “would fight for any worker in this country that was going through something like that.”

“I am for them,” Mauer told Sports Headliners.  “I am proud of what they are doing.  I applaud them. “

It’s popular to criticize the replacement officials but they have a difficult assignment.  Those officials are working NFL games for the first time and their performances are in the national spotlight.

Mike Markuson, the former Hamline University and Farmington High assistant, who was fired as Wisconsin’s offensive line coach after two games last week, was replaced on the Badgers staff by 27-year-old Bart Miller.  Miller was promoted to interim offensive line coach from his position as a graduate assistant.  The Badgers rushed for only 173 yards in a 16-14 win over Utah State last Saturday.

The guess here is Rashad Vaughn, the Cooper junior guard and one of the nation’s best prep basketball prospects in the class of 2014, will keep the Gophers near the top of his list college lists.

Prep basketball authority Ken Lien emailed that representatives from Louisville, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin will be in town recruiting Vaughn this week.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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