Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner finished the coin toss at midfield, grabbed a maroon “Jerrysota” flag, ran into the end zone in front of the student section, and headed to the sideline to wave it some more.
After suddenly retiring this week, Jerry Kill was not at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. He was said to be watching from his Minneapolis home. But his presence loomed.
“Coach Kill is so important to the state of Minnesota,” Leidner said. “The entire student section loves him. Everybody in the stadium loves him. He’s done so much for this team, this program.
“I was honored to be able to do that [with the flag] tonight. … Something I’ll never forget.”
Leidner played an unforgettable game, too, completing 16 of 33 passes for a career-high 317 yards and a touchdown. But his try for a half-yard sneak on the game’s final play fell short, giving Michigan a 29-26 victory.
Leidner said he had “a lot of confidence” walking to the line for that play.
“I haven’t missed a quarterback sneak since I’ve been here,” he said. “At least I’m pretty sure by my memory. It’s crazy because nobody usually stops us in that situation.
“It felt like I ran into a wall. They did a good job. They shoved a lot of guys in there.”
But the Gophers were still impressed with Leidner’s performance.
“Mitch is an incredible quarterback,” tight end Brandon Lingen said after making five catches for a career-high 111 yards. “He’s one of the most competitive people I know. He’s got the biggest heart.”
Sawvel’s role to expand?
If Tracy Claeys gets to keep the head coach job, defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel could be in line for a promotion to defensive coordinator.
This week on KFAN (100.3-FM), Claeys said Sawvel would help him make the defensive calls now that Claeys’ role has expanded to interim head coach.
Claeys noted that Sawvel handled the defensive coordinator role for Northern Illinois at the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl after Kill, Claeys and Matt Limegrover were hired by Minnesota.
Garcia’s future unclear
The only member of the 2016 recruiting class who has de-committed from the Gophers since Kill’s retirement is former East Ridge defensive tackle Jojo Garcia.
Garcia was ruled ineligible to play his senior season after his residency was found to be outside the East Ridge boundaries. He transferred to Simley this year. He tweeted that he was withdrawing his commitment on Wednesday, soon after Kill made his announcement, and hinted he might retire from football himself.
Reached by the Star Tribune, Garcia confirmed his de-commitment and added that he is “not 100 percent on football.”
• Defensive tackle Scott Ekpe was out with an unspecified injury. He also missed the Purdue game earlier in the month.
• Eric Carter, the team’s third-leading receiver, also missed the game because of an unspecified injury.
Star Tribune staff writer David LaVaque contributed to this report.