EVANSTON, ILL. – For most football teams, uncertainty at the quarterback position is termed a controversy, or at least a competition.
For the Gophers, it’s more like a co-op.
Mitch Leidner started on Saturday, when the Gophers beat Northwestern 20-17 at Ryan Field. Philip Nelson threw more passes and ran more often, and his 29-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter provided the Gophers’ only offensive touchdown.
Nelson threw more effectively. Leidner ran a little more effectively. Neither played well enough to become the clear-cut frontrunner to win the job, and neither played poorly enough to lose the job.
Tracy Claeys, the Gophers acting head coach, didn’t sound eager to pick one over the other. He said the plan was to play both quarterbacks. When Nelson enjoyed immediate success, he became more than a change-of-pace.
“I said all week we were going to play Philip for a series,” Claeys said. “And we had decent field position there so it made sense to get him a series and get him in there and so that was kind of the plan.
“And then the second half, we put Mitch back in there, Philip got another series. I told the guys I’d really like for Philip to get another series in the second half just in case. So when we put Philip in there the second time, it just seemed like we moved the ball a little bit more.
“The later it got in the game, the experience part [became a factor]. … Philip’s been in those situations. I think it’s important to have somebody in those situations when you’re managing the clock and trying to run the clock out.”
Nelson also looked more effective running the ball than he did in his last game action, against Iowa. “Probably fresh legs,” Claeys said.
Nelson completed eight of 11 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. Leidner completed one of three passes for 11 yards. Nelson rushed nine times for 26 yards. Leidner rushed seven times for 27 yards.
Nelson and Leidner have toed the company line all season, saying they want what’s best for the team.
“Yeah, whatever the coaches want in order for us to win is perfectly fine with me,” Nelson said. “Me and Mitch are really good friends and I think that’s something that helps each other out.
“Whenever I’m in, he’ll help me out on the sideline, and whenever he’s in I’ll help him out with some coverage stuff. It’s a good relationship between us.”
Claeys indicated that the relationship may remain static for at least another week.
“I think everybody would like to settle on one,” Claeys said. “I’ve always been a fan of playing the backup quarterback for a series or two in the game, just in case you need him later, if you get injured, but also I think good football coaches adjust.
“It’s like in any sport, you adjust. In basketball, whoever’s got the hottest hand, that’s who they’re drawing plays up for in the huddle. So whoever’s moving you at that time, you stick with them.’’