Abdul-Khaliq emerges as player’s choice to start

John R. Carter

Saturday’s changing of the quarterback guard during Minnesota’s game against Murray State came with little fanfare, but perhaps much significance.

With 7:55 remaining in the third quarter and the Gophers up 45-10, starter Asad Abdul-Khaliq strolled to the bench, took off his helmet and picked up the phone to the Gophers coaching staff in the press box.

At the same time, backup Travis Cole ditched his baseball cap, scurried to find his helmet and prepared to take over Minnesota’s offense.

The two crossed paths and slapped five.

Barring injury or another blowout, Saturday’s exchange might be the last of the season for the Gophers signal-callers.

Abdul-Khaliq’s impressive showing against the Racers (14 of 17, 186 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions) might have earned the sophomore the starting job for the remainder.

“If I keep having performances like this than I guess (I should start),” Abdul-Khaliq said. “But I can never say, because I never know what’s going to happen.”

Wide receiver Antoine Burns is backing Abdul-Khaliq.

“He stepped up like he’s supposed to,” Burns said. “Granted it was Murray State, but he looked pretty good out there.

“Travis is a great quarterback, but Asad is starting to really get used to the offense. He’s deserving of the start next week, and for the rest of the year.”

The pair have rotated roles like tires this season. Abdul-Khaliq started the season-opener, handed the reigns to Cole who got the call in games two through four, then regained the No. 1 job for the past three games.

The indecision has taken its toll on the quarterbacks’ statistics and the Gophers record.

Heading into last weekend’s game, Minnesota’s passing offense ranked ninth in the conference at just over 181 yards per game. Although the Gophers are a run-oriented team, the poor showing at quarterback is partly to blame for Minnesota’s No. 10 ranking in the Big Ten in scoring at 23 points per game.

The 66-point effort against Murray State jumped the Gophers from the No. 10 spot to fifth in scoring at over 29 points per game.

The game was also a confidence booster for Abdul-Khaliq, who completed one more touchdown pass on Saturday then he had all season.

“This is exactly what I needed,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “I didn’t want to have a bad game where I was thinking about what I did last week. I wanted my mind to be free so I can focus on Ohio State.”

Just because Abdul-Khaliq seems to be settling into his role, don’t count on him being named official starter for the Buckeyes game – or any other game – anytime soon.

Coach Glen Mason likes playing guessing games too much to name a starter before game time.

“I don’t know (if Asad will start against Ohio State),” Mason said after the Racers game. “It’s only Saturday and we don’t play until next Saturday. Plus, what would you guys ask me all week if I told you?”

Maybe it’s Mason’s plan to keep the quarterback controversy going – especially with the Buckeyes in town.

Mason won’t entertain any questions this week about his pursuit of the coaching vacancy at his alma mater last winter.

“Those interviews will be ended as fast as they’re asked,” Mason said. “It’s only a distraction.”

For now Abdul-Khaliq will remain the likely, yet unconfirmed, starter for the showdown against Ohio State on Saturday.

And Mason will have twice the amount of questions to fend off.

 

John R. Carter covers football and
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