Too bad Abbott and Costello never met this year’s Gophers football team, or the famous “Who’s on First?” routine might have a worthy football sequel.
“Who’s at quarterback? What’s at tailback? I Don’t Know is coaching.”
None of this is a laughing matter for the Gophers, of course, especially with Coach Jerry Kill on leave to treat his epilepsy. But it’s a testament to their resilience that they are 5-2 with so much weekly uncertainty at quarterback, tailback and head coach.
Acting head coach Tracy Claeys had planned to name a starting quarterback Tuesday for this week’s game against Nebraska. He sat down with the offensive staff to finalize those plans, and in walked trainer Ed Lochrie, with news that redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner was sick.
Leidner is taking antibiotics, but it’s unclear how much he’ll practice this week. That would seem to increase the likelihood that sophomore Philip Nelson starts Saturday, but Claeys didn’t indicate that.
“One thing we have here is a rule that if you’re going to play, you’ve got to practice,” Claeys said. “So we’ll see how Mitch handles this medication, if he feels better.”
Nelson has started four games at quarterback, including a surprise appearance against Iowa on Sept. 28, when every hint suggested Leidner would start. Leidner has started three games, including one at Michigan on Oct. 5 that no one saw coming.
Last Saturday Nelson relieved Leidner and had far more success moving the offense in a 20-17 victory over Northwestern. Claeys said no matter which quarterback starts against Nebraska, the backup will get some first-half snaps. That was the plan heading into the Northwestern game, too.
At tailback, the Gophers have used three different starters this year — Donnell Kirkwood, Rodrick Williams and David Cobb.
Kirkwood sprained an ankle in the season opener. Williams started the next five games but landed in the doghouse for an off-field issue last week. Cobb wasn’t on the season-opening depth chart, but he started last week, notched his second 100-yard game and leads the team with 477 rushing yards.
“The good thing about the running backs is there are three of them there,” Claeys said. “And who will start? I think Coach Kill would tell you, too, that’s going to be determined on Thursday.”
Claeys said he prefers to let the starting quarterback know Tuesday that he’ll be in charge of the first-team offense, whereas the starting tailback is determined by who practices the best during the week.
“One thing our staff doesn’t believe in is gamers,” Claeys said. “Those guys that say they’re just going to show up and play on Saturday, that doesn’t happen here.”
A couple famous comedians would have loved the Gophers Tuesday media briefings.
Costello: What’s the guy’s name at quarterback?
Abbott: No. What is at tailback.
Costello: I’m not asking you who’s at tailback.
Abbott: Who’s at quarterback.
Costello: I don’t know.
Abbott: He’s the coach, we’re not talking about him.
Claeys has been in charge since Oct. 5, when Kill was unable to make it to the Michigan game after having a seizure. Kill began an indefinite leave Oct. 10 but surprised everyone by having his wife, Rebecca, drive him to the Northwestern game Saturday.
Kill watched from the coaching booth and addressed the players both at halftime and after the game. Claeys said Kill was in his office Sunday and for a few more hours Monday.
“He’ll be in and out as he feels,” Claeys said. “Like I said, he’s got a process that he’s got to go through, and the better he feels, he likes to be around the kids.”
Kill spent part of his time calling recruits, including Chanhassen offensive lineman Frank Ragnow, who announced last month that he had narrowed his choices to Minnesota, Arkansas, Cal, Florida State, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.
As for how involved Kill will be in game planning for Nebraska, Claeys said, “I would be surprised if he’s heavily involved in it. But the fact he drove seven hours to Chicago [for the Northwestern game], I’m sure he’ll be in the press box for this game.
“And if he’s got some advice to help us win the football game, I’d be glad to listen to it.”