One look at the statistics suggested Mitch Leidner would need a strong passing game Saturday for the Gophers to beat Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had the country’s eighth-ranked rushing defense yet ranked last in the nation against the pass.
Sure enough, Nebraska made it tough to run in the Gophers’ 48-25 defeat. Shannon Brooks, who had 176 yards last week at Purdue, managed just 25 on eight carries against the Cornhuskers. Rodney Smith added eight carries for 20 yards.
The Gophers finished with 65 running yards after rushing for 326 at Purdue.
Coach Jerry Kill had said the Gophers were “banged up at running back” coming into the game.
Afterward he said, “As far as injuries, things like that, it had no effect. It was just hard sledding in there. [Nebraska] made it very tough.”
But Leidner did take advantage of Nebraska’s porous pass defense. He completed his first 10 passes. By halftime, he was 16-for-17 for 156 yards.
He made several throws under duress and got his left (non-throwing) thumb crushed on a hit between two defenders in the third quarter, requiring medical attention on the sideline.
He put a glove on his left hand, stayed in the game and finished 26-for-40 for 301 yards and a touchdown, setting career highs for completions and yardage. His two interceptions both came late in desperation time.
“Everybody’s been critical of Mitch and certainly me, and that’s part of it when you’re the head coach and the quarterback,” Kill said. “He screwed up his opposite hand, and there was no way you’re going to take him out of the game.
“He played well enough for us to win the game. It wasn’t Mitch. He did everything he could.”
The bye week will give Leidner and his teammates extra time to get ready for the Oct. 31 Michigan game.
“I’m sure I’d be fine to go next Saturday if I had to,” Leidner said. “But these bye weeks are crucial to the team and being able to get your body back and recover. We’ll be able to put this loss behind us and continue to prepare and get better and give Michigan all we’ve got.”
On a day with two Top 25 showdowns in the Big Ten — Michigan State at Michigan and Iowa at Northwestern — conference Commissioner Jim Delany was at TCF Bank Stadium for Nebraska at Minnesota.
“We’ve got some great games, but I wanted to get up to see [University of Minnesota President] Eric Kaler, who’s chairman of our board,” Delany said. “So we work closely together, and I told him I was going to get up there this fall.”
Delany was at the stadium for its opening in 2009, and this was his third visit. He also took note of the recently approved $166 million athletics facilities project for the Gophers.
“Those are important to get done because there’s building all over the Big Ten,” Delany said.
• Kill did not detail what injuries starting linebackers Cody Poock and De’Vondre Campbell might be facing. Poock didn’t play, and Campbell played only on special teams before entering at linebacker in the second half. Kill said defensive end Alex Keith broke a hand during warm-ups and couldn’t play.
• KJ Maye had career highs with 11 receptions for 94 yards and added a 7-yard touchdown run. “We look at him as being one of our most explosive players on offense,” Leidner said.