Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill officially announced back-up QB Max Shortell the starter for Saturday night’s game against Syracuse. The sophomore Shortell replaced a banged-up MarQueis Gray in last week’s game against Western Michigan and secured the Gophers’ victory by throwing for 188 yards and 3 TDs. Gray is suffering from left ankles sprains, so the baton has been passed to Shortell, who starts his first game since a blowout loss against Michigan last year.
Shortell is a prototypical pocket-passer with a strong arm. This week he’s expressed his comfort with the offense. The Gophers have scored at least 28 plus points in each of their first three games, compared to just reaching that margin just once last season. A golden opportunity presents itself for the Orange. A young QB getting a rare start at home with heightened expectations under the bright Saturday night lights. The pressure mounts on Minnesota, and the Orange has a realistic shot at coming in and stealing one.
Here are the top our reasons why the quarterback change for the Gophers actually gives the Orange an advantage tomorrow.
- SU has the the experience at QB
Undoubtedly Ryan Nassib’s three-year experience as a starter gives Syracuse a great shot to control the clock. His record-breaking numbers to begin the season dropped off last week, but from a leadership standpoint he’s been great. He has taken his game to a new level in year five. But Nassib’s ability to handle himself with the media and locker room proves he understands the keys to preparation. Playing in a hostile non-conference environment is no secret to him either, having played USC at the Coliseum last year. Look for Nassib put points up.
- SU knows the Gophers will have to turn to their ground game
Minnesota has a dynamic running back in Donnell Kirkwood, who rushed for a career-high 110 yards last week. However, the Orange defense will know what’s coming. Obviously with a back-up QB who has started just two games in his career, Minnesota will stress the running game. Gray was also a huge piece of their ground attack. Meantime, the Orange seem to be figuring out a nice blend of its own running backs, building off the Stony Brook win. Prince Tyson-Gulley tells The Fizz each RB brings something unique:
“I believe there is no limit. I believe with me, Jerome [Smith], and Ashton Broyld, we are all going to bring something to the table.”
- Minnesota takes a hit to its big play potential
Gray being sidelined should help the Syracuse defense stay stout all game. SU’s main problem has been preventing the big play, and letting opponents convert on long 3rd downs. Without the play-making of Gray, Minny’s ability to rip off big chunks of yardage should be cut down. Marquis Spruill tells The Fizz it’s tough to not get off the field on 3rd downs.
“It takes a chunk out of your heart. You got to flush it and keep going to work.”
Shortell is still developing and does not utilize his legs as often as Gray. The passing game therefore becomes more predictable for the Orange to attack.
- The Orange D will be able to play fast
Marrone wants the defense to continue to play with an up-tempo mindset. You better believe it will be difficult for the Gophers to develop consistency now having the playbook rearranged in Shortell’s favor. SU’s defense won’t be taking the Gophers for granted. Spruill has compared this team to a similar foe from Week 1:
“It’s kind of like Northwestern was. They have a spread. They have three wide-outs most of the time. It’s nothing that practice can’t fix. We go over their plays in practice. Hopefully we see the same things in the game, if not, we make adjustments and keep playing.”
A fast pace keeps the D on its toes and fuels a game-changing attitude every down. Dyshawn Davis preached guys are always looking to work together on the fast mentality:
“Our main thing [on defense] is we just want to help each other out by sprinting to the ball. Everybody giving a good effort, taking shots, [and] breaking down making good tackles. In terms of tempo, we just want to play fast and play at our game, and everything will take care of itself from there.”
The Big Ten wasn’t kind to SU after losing to Northwestern in a heart-breaker, but exposure to the experience helps. The grueling out-of-conference schedule is halfway done. TCF Bank Stadium has been around just for a few years, but crowds accumulating close to 45, 000 have made it a tough place to play. So the game will feel fast and upbeat. Davis says the team can’t wait to play its first road test of the season:
“The coaches are fired up. We’re fired up. Coach Shafer told us it’s sold out over there. It’s going to be loud. The atmosphere is going to be crazy. We’re fired up looking to get a good game over there in the Big Ten Conference and get a W.”
The Gophers sold out of 5,300 upper-bowl tickets for $10 apiece in only two days. With the creative playbook continuing to unfold along with its gritty defense, the Orange has the firepower to pull an upset.
Listen to Fizz Radio tomorrow from 9 – 10 AM for a full preview of the Orange and the Golden Gophers. Follow us on Twitter @OrangeFizz for updates throughout the course of the game.
Posted: Brendan Glasheen