Dual quarterback offense bogs down Minnesota

John R. Carter

EVANSTON, Ill., – Shortly after his team’s 23-17 victory over Minnesota on Saturday, Northwestern cornerback Marvin Ward stood taller than his 5-foot-11 frame at a podium in front eight television cameras and countless media members.

The 19-year-old sophomore acted beyond his years while questions were thrown his way as fast and frequent as footballs.

In the hours prior, on a soggy and sloppy Ryan Field, Ward made seven tackles and broke up two passes. He also played outstanding defense, mainly covering Gophers wideout Antoine Burns, who had the ball thrown his way 13 times yet made only two receptions.

But Ward was even more impressive making this observation about the Gophers two-quarterback system:

“We knew (Asad) Abdul-Khaliq likes to run, so when he was out there we were expecting a boot(leg),” Ward said. “(Travis Cole) is a drop-back passer who we didn’t expect to run the ball.”

Ward gave an response you would expect from a veteran of Big Ten football. But Ward is no veteran. Saturday was his first career start.

Yet Ward’s review of Abdul-Khaliq and Cole was dead on, thereby proving Minnesota’s quarterback rotation isn’t quite as deceptive as it’s made out to be.

The Gophers’ signal-callers combined to complete just 10 of 34 pass attempts for a mere 143 yards. Even worse, the one-dimensional feature of each quarterback was evident.

Abdul-Khaliq, the rusher, had 55 yards on the ground, but just 36 in the air. He completed almost as many passes to his own receivers (four) as he did to Northwestern (three interceptions).

Cole, the passer, threw for 107 yards and a touchdown, but rushed for negative 17 yards and was sacked twice.

Neither Abdul-Khaliq or Cole wanted to comment after individual performances which mirrored a season of inconsistency.

In five games, four of which were losses, Abdul-Khaliq and Cole have thrown for a combined 925 yards – a hardly impressive 185 yards per game.

They’ve rushed for an average of just 14 yards per game, while throwing five touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The statistics would be enough for most coaches to pull their hair out in disgust, but not Gophers head man Glen Mason.

“It’s not frustrating at all,” Mason said. “If I thought it was hurting us I wouldn’t do it.”

Then who deserves the blame?

Minnesota’s offense produced 400 yards against the Wildcats. Running backs Tellis Redmon and Marion Barber III combined for 200 yards, while receiver Ron Johnson had three receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown.

But Abdul-Khaliq and Cole’s frequent incomplete passes and short runs consistently put the Gophers in poor field position on third down, which led to Minnesota converting just 3 of 18 on third down.

The three times the Gophers converted, the average distance to a first down was four yards. On 15 unsuccessful attempts, the average distance was 11 yards.

Northwestern coach Randy Walker hinted Minnesota’s inability to earn an important first down or score a big touchdown was due to the play of its quarterbacks.

“What is the highest correlation for winning football games?” Walker asked. “Turnover ratio; huge aspect of the game today.”

Perhaps the Gophers could have pulled the game out against Northwestern, but neither Abdul-Khaliq or Cole put Minnesota in a position to find out.