The quarterback position has been a question all year for the Gophers. With streaky play from both MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell, fans weren’t sure who could lead the struggling Minnesota offense. Saturday was a much different story for Gray and the Gophers who won their first Big Ten game of the season. Gray’s leadership and play were noticed by his coaches and teammates.
“MarQueis made some plays out there,” said Jerry Kill. “It has to be him not me. As the quarterback he has to be the leader, and he did a great job. Our kids hung in there and that is a credit to him. It feels good to see him step up. He is learning.”
Gray put his leadership on display with the Gophers trailing. After a lost fumble by Duane Bennett, Gray gathered the offense together in an effort to energize the team.
“We’ve been talking to him about leadership,” said Kill. “When Duane fumbled the ball, he (Gray) called the offense up and got after them a bit and said, ‘Hey, this ain’t going to happen again. We’ve kicked ourselves in the foot way too many times.’ I seen him over there talking to the defense. If you’re going to win, it all starts at that position. That guy’s got to be a respected youngster and he’s got to be a player. I think he grew into that today.”
Gray recalled the conversation with his teammates after the fumble.
“Coach Kill said I need to stop trying to be everybody’s friend and be a leader of this team, and it showed today.”
Not only did Gray lead the Gophers with his words, he also led by example, finishing the game with 11 completions on 17 attempts for 193 yards and a touchdown. He hurt the Iowa defense with his feet as well, racking up 62 yards on five carries and a score on the ground. Part of Gray’s success was due to increased confidence throughout the game.
“It was confidence, believing in my guys to go up and make those plays…Devin [Crawford-Tufts], Duane, Da’Jon [McKnight], all those guys did a great job in helping me feel confidence, and the O-line did a great job giving me confidence.”
Freshman Devin Crawford-Tufts, who ended the game with two catches for 100 yards, saw the change in Gray as the game progressed and the Gophers started mounting a comeback.
“As the game went on and we kept completing passes and getting first downs and everything, I felt like everybody was kind of relaxed and just out and starting playing football and having fun like we’re supposed to.”
The culmination of Gray’s day came with 2:48 left in the game and the Gophers trailing by five and facing a fourth-and-goal from the three-yard line. Gray rolled out, secured a block on the outside and sprinted past a host of Hawkeye defenders for the game-winning score.
“It had to be done,” said Gray. “I was the one with the ball in my hands. Coach called my number.”