Gophers turn tables on 'Cats heading into Saturday showdown
Pat Fitzgerald doesn't know whether Minnesota senior MarQueis Gray will play quarterback Saturday or backup Max Shortell, so the Northwestern coach has been forced to prepare for both eventualities or a combination of the two while prepping for Saturday's game against the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.
In other words, Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is doing to Fitzgerald what Fitzgerald has done to every opponent the Wildcats have played this season: He's making him defend two quarterbacks with contrasting styles. In this version of the age-old shell game, Kill might even have the upper hand.
"Everybody knows we're going to play two," Fitzgerald said of his quarterback situation. "We don't know who's going to play [for Minnesota]. That's a whole [different] component."
Gray has been sidelined since spraining his knee and ankle against Western Michigan on Sept. 15. The senior is not at full strength but has been practicing and could return as the starter or in a package that allows him to use his running ability. Shortell is more of a pure passer. He could start and play the entire game for all defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz knows.
Much like Fitzgerald has done all season, Kill has been purposely vague this week, which means the Wildcats are the ones playing the guessing game.
"We really don't know what quarterback we'll see," senior linebacker David Nwabuisi said. "They bring two different things to the table. We just have to be prepared for whatever they throw at us and adjust."
Fitzgerald has used both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian in every game this season and will do so again Saturday. It's a balancing act that came crashing down for the first time against Penn State. Finding the right mix of Colter running, throwing and catching while keeping Siemian engaged in the passing game will not only benefit the Wildcats Saturday but against upcoming Big Ten opponents.
In the short-term, keep a program handy. Expect four quarterbacks to play Saturday.
"At the end of the day, they have to do it," linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo said of the Gophers scheming for Colter and Siemian, "and this week, we have to do it, too."
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