Although everything was going wrong for the Gophers, fans should look at one positive from Saturday's game. Minnesota was able to play a number for true freshmen, an experience that will surely help these young players' growth.
With an apparent quarterback controversy dominating the headlines, Max Shortell took the ball today for every snap as MarQueis Gray was out with a toe injury. Fans have been calling for the strong-armed true freshman to get more playing time as Gray has struggled in the Gophers' first four games. Shortell ended the game 11 for 22 for just over 100 yards passing. Despite the underwhelming numbers, the experience gained from playing an entire game in the Big House can only help Shortell's progression going forward as the possible quarterback of the future.
Another true freshman who played a significant role in the game was wide receiver Marcus Jones. Jones did not catch a pass but did have five kick returns for 119 yards. In the second half, Jones took a short kick past the Michigan defenders for the Gophers' first touchdown of the game. Unfortunately, on the return, Minnesota committed one of their six special teams penalties, bringing the touchdown back and taking the Gophers' only points of the day off the board. With starting return man Troy Stoudermire out, Jones stepped up and earned his spot on the field with a strong day returning kicks.
When the Gophers played NDSU last week, fans were scratching their heads as true freshmen David Cobb and Devin Crawford-Tufts were used for only a couple plays, eliminating the potential to redshirt either playmaker. While the merits of playing the freshmen last week was questionable, both players gained valuable, on-field experience in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Despite a late fumble on a botched handoff, Cobb had a successful day on the ground. He was the Gophers' leading rusher with 54 yards on eight carries, including a 29-yard run in the second half. Crawford-Tufts got onto the field late in the game and made the most of it. The Edina (Minn.) native caught two passes for 15 yards, holding onto one pass as he got blasted by a Michigan defensive back.
Despite the Gophers losing the Little Brown Jug in astonishing fashion, Minnesota fans should see the silver lining of the future offensive player-makers gaining valuable experience at the biggest venue in college sports. Playing these freshmen early and offer can only help the future of the Gophers' struggling football program.