3Qs4 Syracuse v. Minnesota: How will Max Shortell be used?

Syracuse can take a big step toward a bowl game berth with a win against Minnesota on Saturday. That won’t be easy on the road against a formidable Big 10 opponent. Can Syracuse steal a win on the road?

Here are three other questions to ask on Saturday.

HOW WILL MAX SHORTELL BE USED?

With QB MarQueis Gray out because of a high ankle sprain, the Golden Gophers will turn to sophomore Max Shortell. Gray was injured during Minnesota’s 28-23 win over Western Michigan on Saturday and was replaced by Shortell, who threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns.

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Can Sales keep it up?

At first glance, the two appear to be very different kinds of quarterbacks. Gray is a dual threat quarterback who rushed for 966 yards last year, while throwing for 1495. Shortell is labeled as more of a pocket passer.

But Minnesota coach Jerry Kill doesn’t plan on adjusting his playbook.

“We’re not going to change our offense,” Kill said during the weekly Big 10 Teleconference on Tuesday afternoon. “Or anything like that.”

If Kill decides to use Shortell to run, he may have some success against a Syracuse defense that surrendered 217 yards to Stony Brook last week.

“Whoever is playing quarterback, or any position, for Minnesota is going to be a pretty good football player,” Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said on the weekly Big East Teleconference on Monday.

» Related: The Daily Orange’s Michael Cohen breaks down Saturday’s matchup

CAN SYRACUSE START WELL?

In each of its first three games, Syracuse has gone into halftime trailing its opponent.

Whether it was Northwestern (21-13), USC (14-3) or Stony Brook (17-14), the Orange, and specifically, QB Ryan Nassib struggled to get going until the second half.

“I think a lot of it has to do with teams coming out with good schemes,” Nassib said following Saturday’s 28-17 win over Stony Brook. “They show stuff that we haven’t seen yet. Sometimes we expect something, but they throw something else at us. When we go into halftime and make those second half adjustments, they are usually good for us.”

They have been universally good for Nassib, who has enjoyed one of the best statistical starts for a quarterback in school history. The key now for SU will be to get him started earlier.

“You want to get off to a good start,” Marrone said. “You want to get into a rhythm as fast as you can. It’s difficult. We are working extremely hard to figure out what that right rhythm is for us.”

» Related: Syracuse backfield gaining confidence

CAN SALES KEEP IT UP?

WR Marcus Sales has been on a tear to start the season.

In three games, he’s racked up 350 receiving yards (fourth in the NCAA), and leads the Big East with  116.7 receiving yards per game and 8.3 receptions per game. That has earned him a spot on the 2012 Biletnikoff Award Watch List.

On Saturday, Sales shined again, finishing with five receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.

SU hopes that Sales will continue his torrid play against a defense that is giving up just 19.0 points (39th in the NCAA) a game.

“I’ve played with Marcus for 4 years and I knew what he’s capable of,” receiver Alec Lemon said. “He’s a great player as you can see by his numbers.”

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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