Quarterback Mitch Leidner, who sparked the Gophers football team to victories over Western Illinois and San Jose State by rushing a combined 41 times for 215 yards and four touchdowns, said he has been following the Gophers’ rivalry with Iowa ever since he was a little kid. The redshirt freshman from Lakeville South is excited for Saturday’s game with the Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium.
“We want to get that pig back, you know?” Leidner said, referring to the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. “We have a lot of respect for Iowa. They’re a good team and we’re going to come in here and play our hardest.”
Leidner said the meaning of the trophy game isn’t lost on any of his teammates, either.
“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “We have T-shirts with the pig on it. We’re excited and ready to go. We’ve been looking forward to this game. We’re 4-0 and we have some high expectations and we’re just really looking forward to going out there this weekend.”
While the big story so far this season has been the success of Gophers’ ground game, Leidner was asked if there was anything about last week’s 43-24 victory over San Jose State that he would change.
“I would like to give the receivers some touchdowns, too,” said Leidner, who completed only five of 12 passes for 71 yards while rushing 24 times for 151 yards and four touchdowns. “But I mean overall, I thought I played well. [There were] obviously a couple of critical errors that need to be cleaned up, but the offensive line played great and everybody else did, too. So it was a good game.”
Gophers can pass, too
Leidner has been taking questions all week about whether or not this Gophers team can win if they must pass. He doesn’t see it as an issue.
“I feel comfortable passing the football,” he said.
As a senior in high school, Leidner passed for 1,872 yards and 20 touchdowns, with six interceptions. Is there part of him that wants the Hawkeyes to force him to throw?
“Part of me hopes they’d like to do that at times,” he said. “I’d like to throw the ball and hit some of those receivers and watch them make some plays.”
Leidner also said that having two games under his belt, after starter Philip Nelson injured his hamstring, has helped his confidence.
“It has grown a little bit, but I’m just trying to do the same thing every single day: just keep getting better and working and competing and helping my teammates get better,” Leidner said. “My mentality, I pretty much just want to win football games and that’s it. Just continue to work on fundamentals, basics, get better and help the offensive line and the receivers and everybody else, too.”
Leidner said the Gophers offensive line is leading the charge for the whole offense.
“The offensive line definitely has a little bit of swagger,” he said. “There was one play that really stuck out to me in the San Jose State game when [junior guard] Zac Epping pulled around and blocked three guys at one time and pushed them all back into the end zone [on a David Cobb touchdown run]. It was unbelievable.”
Iowa will be tough
The Gophers know Saturday’s Big Ten opener with the Hawkeyes (3-1) is going to be a litmus test for their season.
“Iowa is a good football team,” Leidner said. “They had some big plays on special teams and defense [in crushing Western Michigan 59-3 last week] and we have to be ready for that. I’ve been watching some film. I mean, they have some big players up front. But I think our O-line is up for the challenge. I’m excited.”
Two teams need spark
Surely the Vikings and Steelers, both 0-3, are viewing this Sunday’s game in London as a last gasp to salvage their seasons. In NFL history, only one team has made the playoffs after starting 0-4, the 1992 Chargers.
The Steelers are also dealing with a troubling quarterback situation. Ben Roethlisberger, who led Pittsburgh to Super Bowl victories following the 2005 and 2008 seasons, has an 81.2 quarterback rating that ranks only 22nd in the league after having a 97 rating last season. He also committed four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) in the Steelers’ 40-23 loss to the Bears last week, which cemented the team’s worst start in 13 years.
“It’s a deep hole,” Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s getting deeper, but I’m not gonna quit.”
It’s amazing these two teams are in such similarly precarious positions heading into one of the NFL’s showcase games in London.
• The word is former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi, who is now teaching at the school, told his class he offered Tony Dungy a 10-year contract at $2 million per year to become Gophers football coach and Dungy, the former Gophers player and NFL coach, turned it down.
• Former Gophers athletic director Mark Dienhart said he wanted to hire Glen Mason as football coach in 1996, but he couldn’t make a deal with his agent, Neal Cornrich. Then he considered hiring current Bears coach Marc Trestman, but it turned out Trestman also had Cornrich as an agent. When he couldn’t negotiate a deal for Trestman, he went back and made a deal for Mason.
• None of the teams Iowa has defeated this season — Missouri State, Iowa State and Western Michigan — has won a game.
• J.D. Spielman, son of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, is a regular cornerback as a sophomore for the Eden Prairie football team and is regarded as one of the best all-around players on the team.
• The Gophers ticket office made every effort not to sell tickets to the Iowa game to Hawkeyes fans. If the application had an Iowa address on it, they didn’t get the tickets.
• Chipola (Fla.) Junior College sophomore Carlos Morris is a 6-5, 175-pound guard who averaged 13.3 points per game last year. He is being heavily recruited by the Gophers and is expected to visit here this weekend. Chipola coach Patrick Blake used to be a student manager for Rick Pitino at Louisville, which might help Gophers coach Richard Pitino in the recruiting of Morris.