ANN ARBOR, MICH. – Maxx Williams and Mitch Leidner aren’t just teammates on the Gophers, they are also roommates. But Williams said he didn’t know Leidner was starting at quarterback Saturday until they got to Michigan Stadium.
Once the game began, it was clear what kind of chemistry those two have. Williams, a 6-4, 254-pound redshirt freshman, led the Gophers with five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.
“If he was triple-covered or had four guys on him, I was going to throw it up to him because he’s a great receiver,” Leidner said. “That was fun.”
Williams has been a good target for Philip Nelson, too. Nelson hit him for a touchdown pass against UNLV in the season opener, and Williams had two more catches the next week.
But Williams was held without a catch against San Jose State and Iowa before re-establishing himself as a go-to receiver on Saturday.
“I don’t think what quarterback is in the game matters,” Williams said. “We like them both, and they’re both good quarterbacks and get the job done.
“Mitch went out there today and played out of his mind.”
Leidner got shaken up early in the second quarter, and Nelson replaced him for two plays before Leidner went back in.
Third-string quarterback Chris Streveler did not make the trip after suffering a hand injury in practice. So scout-team quarterback Conor Rhoda, a true freshman from Cretin-Derham Hall, was ready on the sidelines, in case both Leidner and Nelson got injured.
Third down decisive
Michigan converted 10 of 13 third-down chances, compared with 8-for-15 for the Gophers.
“Dominating first and second down means nothing if on third down they execute better than you,” Gophers safety Brock Vereen said. “So third down needs to be a priority, and we have to do better at it.”
Devin Gardner’s favorite target on third down was tight end Devin Funchess, who led Michigan with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.
“He made the plays and we didn’t, it’s that simple,” acting coach Tracy Claeys said. “Bad job on my part. Because that’s really where we lost the game was on third down.”
The Gophers had a number of players shaken up during the game, including wide receiver Derrick Engel, safety Cedric Thompson and cornerback Martez Shabazz.
“I haven’t talked to the trainers yet, but there’s a few kids they pulled out,” Claeys said. “But that’s part of the game. We’ve got 85 scholarships. We’ve got enough kids. The younger ones just have to step in and play some more.”
One example is true freshman Jalen Myric, who saw time at cornerback at the end of the game with the rest of the secondary banged up.
• Leidner led the Gophers with 66 yards rushing on 18 carries.
• Marcus Jones returned one punt for 18 yards and two kickoffs for 63 yards.
• Defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli notched the first Gophers sack in three games when he got to Gardner in the second quarter.
• Middle linebacker Damien Wilson led the Gophers with eight tackles.