Notebook: Gray finally gets snaps under center

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to dodge Michigan's senior line backer Greg Jones Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to dodge Michigan’s senior line backer Greg Jones Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Josh Katzenstein

When Jeff Horton took over as interim head coach of the Minnesota football team Oct. 17, his e-mail inbox became flooded with requests to move MarQueis Gray back from wide receiver to quarterback. Three weeks later, he finally gave many fans their wish, even if it was in limited playing time for the 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore. Horton has steadily deflected questions about Gray by saying senior Adam Weber gave them the best chance to win. He said that Saturday, too, but was pleased with GrayâÄôs performance, which included 31 rushing yards on five carries as well as a nine-yard receiving touchdown. âÄúWe talked about doing it this week,âÄù Horton said after the Gophers lost to Michigan State, 31-8. âÄúWe worked on it, that package, there in practice. We felt itâÄôd be given the opportunity to work in this game, and I thought it did some good things.âÄù The move caught nearly everyone off guard, especially the Michigan State defense. GrayâÄôs first play at quarterback Saturday came on the GophersâÄô third offensive series, and he handed the ball off to running back DeLeon Eskridge. The defense, though, was watching Gray, so Eskridge ran for 11 yards, his longest carry of the game. Gray later validated the defenseâÄôs choice to watch him as he broke multiple tackles on his carries, all of which went at least four yards. âÄúThem using MarQueis Gray at quarterback a little was a little bit unsettling for us defensively,âÄù Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. Horton said he planned for Gray to play quarterback in either the third or fourth series, but not everyone on the team knew it was coming. âÄúWhen I saw MarQueis at quarterback I was looking like, âÄòWait a minute, is that MarQueis?âÄôâÄù cornerback Troy Stoudermire said. âÄúI saw him in there, and he did pretty good, too. âÄúIf weâÄôre doing good, why not just keep him in there?âÄù Gray quarterbacked the final three plays of the first quarter, but Weber came back in at the start of the second quarter. The Gophers ran two running plays up the gut âÄî Eskridge on third-and-1 and Jon Hoese on fourth-and-1 âÄî for no gain and turned the ball over on downs. Completing just two of six passes for 24 yards, Gray proved he has room for growth, but donâÄôt be surprised if he plays more in the final three games. âÄúI like it because IâÄôm getting more reps at quarterback and itâÄôs just getting me more confidence going into next weekâÄôs game and also in the offseason,âÄù Gray said. âÄúIâÄôm having fun right now, and IâÄôm not doing anything too much that I canâÄôt handle.âÄù As for how Weber handled the decision, Gray said he was encouraging the whole game. Horton said Weber acted like Weber. âÄúHe handles everything better than anybody in this room, probably anybody in the state,âÄù Horton said. âÄúAdam Weber is the ultimate Gopher.âÄù Horton making light of QB situation Horton threw a curveball to the critics that have called for playing Gray at quarterback when he said after the game, likely as a joke, that redshirt freshman Moses Alipate will take snaps next week. âÄúIâÄôm thinking about using Moses more this week too, so IâÄôll try to get Moses ready,âÄù said Horton, adding that he âÄúcouldâÄù and âÄúmightâÄù start next week. Alipate playing next week wouldnâÄôt surprise Gray, he said, but tight end Eric Lair chuckled at the possibility. âÄúCoach HortonâÄôs a jokester,âÄù Lair said. âÄúI donâÄôt know. It would be a surprise. ThatâÄôs his call.âÄù Injury update Hoese, who Horton said was doubtful this week, started at fullback. Although Horton said he wasnâÄôt quite 100 percent, Hoese had three carries, though he gained just 1 total yard. âÄúHe felt good enough the last couple days of practice where he could play,âÄù Horton said of the senior captain. âÄúHe warmed up good before the game, felt good. It was spot duty, but it was good just to get him in there a couple times.âÄù Sophomore defensive tackle Austin Hahn made his first career start after missing last weekâÄôs game with a minor MCL sprain. He filled in for suspended captain Brandon Kirksey.