Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gopher QB Situation Needs a Change

The title of this post should be "Free MarQueis Gray!"

When the Gophers landed the 6-4, 222 lb. QB out of Indianapolis in 2008, it was thought the M&G had one of the nation's best dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school. ranked Gray as the third-ranked dual-option QB in the 2008 class and the #1 player in the state of Indiana the same year. He signed with Minny in 2008 but was a partial-qualifier because of academic concerns. However, he has been a member of the 2009 team in good standing.

Despite claims from coach Tim Brewster that the offense would find ways to work Gray into the rotation, the Gophers have largely used the dual-threat QB as a decoy split out wide as a receiver or handing off to a running back most of the time. Through the season's first seven games, Gray has attempted one pass (0-1) and rushed the ball 10 times for 55 yards. He has caught a TD pass, which was his only reception and covered seven yards. There appears to be little effort to get Gray involved in the offense at all.

Meanwhile, three-year starting QB Adam Weber appears to be regressing. The junior is 106-190 for 1,325 yards, 6 TD, and 9 interceptions. 47 completions and 731 yards (and 5 TDs) have gone to WR Eric Decker. That leaves 594 yards to have been distributed to the other receivers in the Minnesota offense. Weber threw for almost 3,000 yards and 24 TDs as a freshman on a 1-11 Gopher team, and was improved as a sophomore last season (15 TD, 8 INT). However, he has looked lost at times in 2009.

Despite claims of a dynamic and complicated offense under first-year coordinator Jedd Fisch, the Gophers' offense looks to be much of the same to prior seasons'. That is, it runs completely through Eric Decker. Now, Decker may just be the best receiver in college football (note, I said best RECEIVER, not best pro prospect). However, defenses know that Weber will lock in on Decker the vast majority of the time, and it's easy to adjust if you know where the ball is going. Couple that with an unwillingness to commit to a running game - or at least to running off tackle - and the Gophers are quickly deemed predictable.

The offense was pitiful last weekend at Penn State, managing just 138 total yards (42 on one Decker reception in the fourth quarter) while holding the ball for just over 18 minutes the entire game. Weber was awful, going 10-22 for 101 yards and a pick, but the entire until was bad. Compounding on a problem I have been discussing privately and which the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood explored this week has been the team's poor performance on third down. Against Penn State last week, the Gophers' offense was just 3-11, sitting in third-and-long situations just about every time.

The offense needs a kick-start, and Gray can provide it. At bare minimum, work him into the team's third down package. The Gopher teams of the last ten years were successful with QBs Billy Cockerham (pictured right) and Asad Abdul-Khaliq emerging as playmakers. Weber is not a playmaking type of quarterback, and that eases the preparation for the defenses. By putting Gray into the package and letting him do something but hand off, the Gophers will confuse the defenses at bare minimum and begin to convert more efficiently on third down. However, Gopher fans have no idea whether or not Gray is a playmaking type of QB because the team has not allowed him to develop at all. Personally, I would favor putting Gray in as the starter and seeing how he does - today.

They will face an erratic yet big-play threat in Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor this weekend, so the Gophers will see what might have been if they had utilized Gray more effectively.

The bottom line is that Weber is not getting the job done for the Gophers and the offense needs a change. The team has alternated running backs all season long. Why don't they at least try to mix up the QB situation a bit instead of allowing their dual-threat QB collect dust on the bench? It's time for a change - free MarQueis Gray!

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