Demry Croft returns to Gophers’ offense after initially losing quarterback competition

The quarterback situation is up in the air once again.

Quarterback Demry Croft hands the ball to running back Rodney Smith at TCF Bank Stadium on August 31.

Easton Green

Quarterback Demry Croft hands the ball to running back Rodney Smith at TCF Bank Stadium on August 31.

Drew Cove

Just a month ago, the quarterback controversy looked settled and the job was Conor Rhoda’s, but that may not be the case anymore.

Minnesota attempted a fourth-quarter comeback only to get within three points in a 30-27 loss to Michigan State, and that comeback was largely led by quarterback Demry Croft.

“I thought he executed the offense really well,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “He’s learning. I liked his pocket awareness, his accuracy of the balls he delivered I thought were really, really accurate … and I thought he did a really good job of the tempo of running the offense.”

Croft had an eventful road getting to take the snaps against Michigan State.

A few days before Rhoda was named the official starting quarterback, Fleck suspended Croft from the team, citing personal issues away from football.

Fleck never gave a specific reasoning towards Croft’s suspension, but repeatedly stated that, no matter the player, if they don’t do the right things, they will not play in games.

“[I was] just changing my best every day,” Croft said Saturday. “Just learning how to grow as a better person.”

These suspensions weren’t exclusive to Croft; the Gophers saw two more players faced time  out of game action. Defensive end Tai’yon Devers was held out of the first two games, and safety Duke McGhee was held from the games against Maryland and Purdue.

The quarterback wasn’t listed on the depth chart for the games against Middle Tennessee State or Maryland, but was listed as the third-man up on the chart against Purdue.

Croft was one of four quarterbacks listed on the depth chart against Michigan State, and as Rhoda struggled, Croft came in to give the Gophers a different look.

“We talked as a staff on Friday night about possibly playing Demry at some point to get him some experience.” Fleck said. “It wasn’t going to come necessarily at a bad time in a game, it just came at the right time where I feel like I had to be able to give him an opportunity to show what he can do.”

Rhoda went 5-12 in his time in the game, and when Croft came in and threw an interception on just his third attempt, he ended up on the field again after over a month without play time.

Croft and the offense scored 21 points in the fourth quarter against the Spartans, and he had three connections with wide receiver Tyler Johnson.

“I do not think there is any difference at all [between Rhoda and Croft’s passing],” Johnson said. “Both of their balls are both spirals, both tight spirals.”

Though Fleck will not commit to naming either Croft or Rhoda as the starter, Croft’s time in the game was a situation in waiting for a number of weeks.

The main difference between Croft and Rhoda is the hybrid nature of Croft, who threatens to run the ball himself. 

“The thing that can really break the back of a defense, it can break their spirit, is [that] they have everybody covered, and the quarterback pulls the ball down and runs with it, or he extends the play and we get a completion,” said offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. 

Croft’s mobility is no secret to Minnesota’s coaching staff. They saw Croft take one 64-yard run for a touchdown in the game against Oregon State. 

The redshirt sophomore also ran for 31 yards on seven carries in the last game against Michigan State.

“They’re continually making each other better,” Fleck said. “They know that we could possibly continue to keep playing both of them at some point throughout the year.”