In 2011 at USC, Minnesota junior quarterback MarQueis Gray left the game with cramps and true freshman Max Shortell took his first snaps as a Golden Gopher. Shortell nearly led the Gophers to a comeback against the Trojans. He started twice last season, and played in the second half last week, making him even more prepared for when he was called on again today.
Today Gray left the game late in the second quarter, sustaining an injury when he was tackled on a rush. Minnesota led, 10-7. Shortell entered the game on second-and-long and immediately completed a 32-yard pass to Derrick Engel. The Gopher back-up was locked in from the first snap he took.
Shortell threw for a career-high three touchdowns.
"The game experience I got last year really helped me," Shortell said. "I've gotten in a few times this year and it's clear that the coaches giving me a chance last year has really helped me to extend what I can do on the field and help me to be a better player."
On both his initial drive and the next possession, Shortell threw touchdown passes to A.J. Barker. The second was a game-long 53 yards. Shortell added another touchdown pass to Drew Goodger midway through the third quarter.
Shortell set career highs in both passing yards (188) and passing touchdowns (three) today. With Gray in the game today, the Gophers focused on the running game, including 11 rushes from the starting quarterback. Western Michigan had likely focused its preparations on Gray's running threat. So the Gophers took advantage of the changeup created when Shortell, a more passing-centered quarterback, came into the game.
Shortell completed eight of his first 11 passes, showing great poise for a quarterback thrown into a close game.
"That's a credit to Max," head coach Jerry Kill said. "That's one of those things where he was ready and his opportunity came. ...He was prepared for his opportunity and took advantage of it."
Shortell felt that he when he came off the sidelines, he "had to step up and get the offense rolling." He did just that. The Shortell-led drives down the field electrified the crowd at TCF Bank Stadium during the 28-23 victory, but the Gopher quarterback treated it like just another day in the office.
"We've all played in so many games that it's almost second nature to go in there and do what you need to do," he said. "It's a game so you go in there and try to have fun. Whatever happens, happens."