MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The bye week apparently has been good for quarterback MarQueis Gray’s beaten up toe and the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ battered psyche.
Gray said on Wednesday that his injured left big toe feels 100 percent and that he will be ready to go when the Gophers (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten) face Nebraska next week.
“My toe’s not bothering me anymore,” Gray said. “I feel confident about it. Now that we’ve got this bye week, I’m looking forward to getting it fully healed for the Nebraska game.”
Gray was injured in a victory over Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 17. As a quarterback who relies on making plays with his legs almost as much as he does with his arm, the injury set him back quite a bit. Gray split time with freshman Max Shortell in a loss to North Dakota State, missed a 58-0 loss to Michigan two weeks ago and did not start against Purdue last week.
Gray did play in the 45-17 loss to the Boilermakers, but was just 8 for 20 for 104 yards and an interception. Now that he’s finally healthy, and has a week to work on his timing with his receivers, Gray hopes it will make a difference going forward for the reeling program that has been embarrassed three weeks in a row.
“I thought this bye week couldn’t come at a better time,” Gray said. “It gives us a chance to start focusing on the second half of the season … and start focusing on Nebraska.”
He is the leading rusher on the team, but has completed just 48.5 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions. His struggles in the passing game have led some to call for new coach Jerry Kill to make Shortell the starter and start building for the future.
But Kill said Wednesday that Shortell is starting to hit the wall in his first season of college ball and that Gray remains his starting quarterback.
“Max is wore out,” Kill said. “He was tired last week. It’s wear and tear on those kids, certainly a freshman who has to do all this stuff, go to class, learn how to play quarterback and we’re making him take every rep to get him better.”
The quarterbacks aren’t the only players who needed a break. The Gophers have been dominated in three straight games, including getting outscored 103-17 in their first two Big Ten games.
“We enjoy playing this game, whether it’s practice or a game,” linebacker Mike Rallis said. “We come out here and work hard every time we get a chance.”
For the most part, Kill said he has liked how his players have responded to adversity of dealing with a coach who has missed practice time with seizures and the embarrassingly lopsided defeats on game day.
“The kids have been good and it ain’t easy. Believe me, it’s not easy at all,” Kill said of the rebuilding process. “It’s tough on (the media), double tough on the coach and triple that for the kid. They put a lot into it and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
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