Tag Archives: Max Shortell

Quarterback Controversies? What Quarterback Controversies?

The 2012 edition of the tilt for Paul Bunyan’s Axe contains one exciting subplot after another. Can the Gophers bounce back from subpar performances against Iowa and Northwestern? Will the Badgers be able to maintain their momentum fresh off their most complete victory of the season? Is Coach Kill’s seizure issue becoming a distraction for the squad?

But all those issues are secondary to the indecision that has surrounded both programs at the most critical of positions: quarterback.

The Gophers have run out two different starters during the first six games of the season: Marqueis “Maybe I Should Be Playing WR” Gray and Max “Stop Comparing Me To Andy Dalton” Shortell. The Badgers have deployed the tandem of: Danny “Seriously, I Am Not Russell Wilson” O’Brien and Joel “Freshman This!” Stave.

Coach Kill has flip-flopped worse than Obama…I mean…Romney…I mean, blast, cannot make a political joke without alienating half the readers.

Most recently, the Gophers have seen both Gray and Shortell fail behind the helm. This has only fueled the speculation over who should start. And while starting Gray at wide receiver and letting Shortell grow into the QB position might be the best approach for the team’s success now and in the future, Gray produces just enough magic when behind the center to continue justify giving him another shot.

The game against Northwestern is a classic example. There were a half dozen plays where Gray used his athleticism to escape Wildcat pressure and make a positive play. Most times those plays were with his legs, but occasionally he would find an open receiver. Unfortunately, he does not do this consistently enough to solidify his claim to the starting role. Furthermore, putting Gray at wide receiver still ensures his athleticism is on the field while, at the same time, improving the Gophers at a position of need. Unfortunately, the Gophers seem reluctant to name Shortell the starter.

Interestingly enough, Coach Kill has had success with two starting QBs (see Chand Harnish and Jordan Lynch), but I am not sure that same strategy will work with Gray and Shortell. Further, if Gray has any hope of getting a real paycheck to play football…er….I mean….to play for real money….I mean…..to play on Sundays, he had better get used to the idea of catching the football. What better way than to start showcasing his talents now. Accept the Hines Ward conversion and hope you can even have half the career he did in the National Football League. Plus, making a decision will probably give Shortell a shot in the arm and we can find out what we have with him.

Now, the Badgers have dealt with their QB controversy a little more affirmatively (and it may be the reason they are printing these same t-shirts next year too).

O’Brien started the year. Struggled. Bielema went to freshman Joel Stave, despite little pressure to do so, and Stave has returned a mixed bag. What seemed like a desperation move has seemed to spark the offense to a certain extent. Stave’s numbers are not overly impressive, as he has completed a tick more than 58% of his passes (significantly less than Danny Boy). But he has had made more big plays, completing one pass for 50+ yard in 3 of his 4 starts (O’Brien only had 1 in his 3 starts). It is this type of stat that has many clamoring for Bielema to let Stave off the leash and let him sling it.

Tolzein was certainly not the flashiest of QBs, but he completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2010 and had only 6 INTs all season. Game. Manager.

But, this type of football is the norm for the Badgers. If any major football program is known for producing game mangers, it is Wisconsin. From Jim Sorgi to Scott Tolzein, the Badgers have consistently had guys that thrived at not making mistakes and systematically marching the squad down the field. The play-calling has limited Stave to the game manager mode. But, he has demonstrated (in limited opportunities) that he has the skill set to be something more. Once the play-calling expands, the offense could really take off.

All of that being said, it might be Bielema’s decision to make a decision and name Stave the starter that separates the Badgers from the Gophers (and maybe gives them an edge — which means more of these shirts too). The Gophers lack an identity because their coaches seem unwilling to pick a horse and go with it. Stave, for all his differences from the Wisconsin mold, is the starter. The team knows it. The fans know it. But, maybe most importantly, he knows it.

Ultimately, it is Stave’s self-confidence that just might be the difference in this Saturday’s rivalry game at Camp Randall. While the Gophers QBs struggle to assert themselves, Stave can march out there knowing he is the guy. Misguided or not, that kind of confidence can be the difference between making a play when it matters and doing something that hurts the team. Controversy? What controversy!

Seeing The Forest For The QBs

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are 3-0. That is right, undefeated. Zero losses. And, for this program, that represents a major step forward.

If not for the Wildcats winning season, Gophers opponents would have one win between them.

Last year’s squad was 3 and 9. So, for any Badger fans reading this, that is right, this year’s team has already equaled the win total from last year. That, in and of itself, is impressive. It does not matter that the three teams the Gophers have beaten have 3 wins between them — thank you New Hampshire. It was not too long ago when one Coach Brew was getting embarrassed by cupcakes on an annual basis (see here and here — for just a couple examples). It seems like fans are just about to the point where they feel comfortable sporting Gophers gear in public again.

Unfortunately, last week’s win was not without a few blemishes. For one, the win was not the walk in the park that Wildcats of New Hampshire were the week before. Perhaps most importantly, the game saw senior QB, MarQueis Gray, who was struggling to move the Gophers offense in the first half, go down to what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Insert the Max “Golden Armed Gopher” Shortell.

Shortell immediately lived up to his Twitter handle, firing up the Gophers offense, and connecting with A.J. Barker (twice) for TDs. He then put the Gophers up for good in the second half with a pretty throw to tight end Drew Goodger.

Under Shortell’s direction, the Gophers were able to move the ball through the air in a way that they rarely have all season. Shortell’s performance against WMU was eerily similar to his effort in the game against the Cardinal-allergic USC Trojans last season. Like in that game, Shortell seemed to get less effective as the game wore on. This might have to do with the fact that the less-than-fearsome WMU defense prepared all week for the dual threat that is MarQueis Gray. Not the more traditional, likely not going anywhere, Golden Armed Shortell. But, as the game wore on, WMU got acclimated to the switch and was able to turn the Gophers away.

Ultimately, Golden Arm’s 2012 relief appearance ended a lot more pleasantly than it did in 2011. The Gophers won. Did I mention they are 3-0? However, that victory has triggered an intense discussion regarding whether it should be him, versus Gray, who captains the Gophers offense moving forward.

Gophers fans cannot lose sight of the big picture. Regardless of who starts at QB, the squad is undefeated and on a bit of a roll.

I could go on for the next 5,000 words telling you why the Gophers should name Gray or Shortell the starter. Gray provides the Gophers a dual threat who can keep defenses honest with his scrambling. Shortell has a cannon where most folks have a right shoulder and with the new talent infusion at WR, he could really turn the Gophers offense into a force moving forward. But I think that debate is a bit short-sighted.

After all, we already have exactly as many wins as we did all of last season. Jerry Kill and his staff are the individuals who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that turn around. Call me Gary Busey, but I trust the coaching staff that has engineered the beginning to this maroon and gold revival. Coaches Kill and Limegrover are qualified to decide which QB, Gray or Shortell, is most likely to lead the Gophers to their first successful season in five years. We as Gophers fans should just be happy with the current results — again, a 3-0 record — and excited about the rest of the season.