Minnesota Prevails Against Western Michigan, 28-23
Gray hurt his left leg late in the second quarter with the Gophers (3-0) trailing, but Shortell steered a six-play, 78-yard march for the go-ahead score that A.J. Barker capped with his second of three touchdown receptions. The Broncos went three and out, and Shortell found Barker open on the sideline for a 53-yard catch-and-run to make it 21-10 with 30 seconds left before halftime.
Dareyon Chance rushed 29 times for 144 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos (1-2). Jaime Wilson caught 10 passes for 117 yards, but Alex Carder had a number of overthrows while finishing 24 for 44 for 209 yards and one interception.
The Gophers went for it on fourth-and-15 at the WMU 34 with a little less than 6 minutes left in the game, and Shortell's pass for Marcus Jones was overthrown. Carder's 10-yard touchdown pass to Wilson capped a 66-yard cruise in barely 1 1/2 minutes, pulling the Broncos within 28-23 after the 2-point conversion failed.
They got the ball back for a last chance, with no timeouts and 92 seconds remaining at their own 28-yard line, but Carder took a sack and his fourth-and-18 completion to Wilson was short of the marker.
Barker, a fourth-year junior who played at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis and had one career catch before this season, finished with 101 yards on five receptions. He has four scores and 231 yards in three games.
Donnell Kirkwood rushed 23 times for a career-high 110 yards for the Gophers, who haven't been 3-0 since 2008. They've already matched their victory total in each of the last two seasons.
This was the first meeting between these programs since 1977. The Broncos have beaten Big Ten teams before, twice in coach Bill Cubit's eight seasons, against Illinois in 2008 and at Iowa in 2007. But he dropped to 2-11 against the Mid-American Conference's big brother, and WMU fell to 6-34 all time.
The Broncos played in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last year, losing to Purdue, and Carder threw for 31 touchdowns and averaged 322.8 yards passing in 12 games. With Wilson, an elusive 5-foot-11 freshman from the Miami area, emerging as his go-to receiver and an offensive line comprising four seniors and a junior, the Broncos have the potential to put up some high scores this season. They never punted last week in a 52-21 win over Eastern Illinois, an FCS opponent.
In their opener, though, at Illinois, the Broncos were held to minus-6 yards rushing in a 24-7 loss, and Carder threw three interceptions.
The Gophers had consistently tight downfield coverage, with Michael Carter keeping Wilson from getting loose, breaking up two first-quarter passes and intercepting another at the WMU 26-yard line and returning it to the 8. Gray's only good throw of the afternoon came next, perfectly placed to Barker on a post route to put Minnesota up 7-3.
The Gophers picked off only four passes last season, and they already have five this year. Carter, who had two interceptions over his first three seasons and fell out of favor last year, has emerged as a stalwart in the secondary this fall. He's a cousin of former Minnesota strong safety Tyrone Carter, who won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1999 as the nation's best defensive back and played 11 seasons in the NFL.
Gray was off, and the Gophers were calling a conservative game. He was 3 for 6 for 29 yards passing, plus 11 carries for 57 yards rushing. His last attempt ended badly, in a pile of tacklers with a serious injury. Gray watched the second half on crutches, with a wrap on his left knee and a boot on his left foot.
Antoin Scriven's touchdown run for the Broncos cut the lead to 21-17 in the third quarter, but Shortell and the Gophers answered with a 9-yard scoring pass to tight end Drew Goodger to stretch the lead. The Gophers had only 10 touchdown passes last season, eight by Gray and two by Shortell. They have nine this year. Shortell was 10 for 17, with one interception.
Goodger, a sophomore, went to Northwest High School in Shawnee Mission, Kan., as did Carder, a fifth-year senior. That's Shortell's hometown, too, but he attended Bishop Miege High School in the Kansas City suburb.