Gophers come to life in second half to cruise by Eastern Illinois

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 5:19 AM

The stadium lights beckoned, the band played loud, and the students in gold T-shirts stood shoulder to shoulder, ready for a new season.

College football was back Thursday night, and the Gophers were clearly amped for Eastern Illinois.

Maybe too amped.

Berkley Edwards dropped Mitch Leidner’s first pass, and Leidner struggled finding his touch. But the Gophers defense spent the whole night making big plays, especially Eric Murray’s blocked punt and Logan Hutton’s recovery for a touchdown early in the second half.

As soon as Leidner found his rhythm, the Gophers pulled away for a 42-20 victory.

An announced crowd of 44,344 watched the Gophers overcome a slow start and build a 35-0 lead before the Panthers added three late touchdowns, including one on the game’s final play.

“The score doesn’t really indicate how well the defense played,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.

The lopsided victory was just what the Gophers needed against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA). They will have nine days to learn from the film before playing Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 6.

Leidner completed nine of 17 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown, and rushed for two more scores of 2 and 5 yards in his fifth career start.

The five-touchdown lead allowed the Gophers to give young players an extended look. Leidner’s backup, Chris Streveler, made his college debut, and Edwards rushed for two touchdowns — a 1-yarder and a 42-yarder with two minutes remaining that rewarded the fans who stayed until the end.

“We had a lot of good things that happened out there,” Kill said. “We had a few things that we certainly need to improve on.”

Leidner is a sophomore who shared time at quarterback with Philip Nelson last year, never quite knowing when a bad play might get him benched. Now, with Nelson gone, the job is all Leidner’s, but the Gophers saw him pressing too hard at times during training camp.

That seemed to be the case early, as the Gophers punted twice and lost the ball on a Leidner fumble.

“Definitely a lot of nerves,” Leidner said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment and then having a night game as well. But I was able to get through it and execute better.”

Eastern Illinois sabotaged itself early with two botched snaps in the shotgun formation. The first one halted an impressive first drive with a 17-yard loss. The second one was fumbled by quarterback Jalen Whitlow and recovered by Alex Keith at the Panthers 5-yard line.

Leidner made it hurt. On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, he couldn’t find anyone open, so he scrambled left for a touchdown.

Two drives later, Leidner rolled out and hit tight end Maxx Williams, who hurdled a defender for a 25-yard gain. Leidner went 4-for-4 on that drive, eventually hitting sophomore Donovahn Jones for a 35-yard touchdown.

“He’s a whole different kid,” Leidner said of Jones, who had three receptions for 57 yards. “He’s matured a lot since last season. He’s out there, and he’s hungry. He wants to get the ball, and he wants to score touchdowns.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Cleveland 86 FINAL
Indiana 93
Washington 81 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Golden State 113 FINAL
Toronto 89
New York 121 FINAL
Detroit 115
Orlando 88 FINAL
Atlanta 95
Charlotte 98 FINAL
Boston 106
LA Clippers 97 FINAL
Memphis 79
Brooklyn 98 FINAL
Houston 102
Miami 102 FINAL
New Orleans 104
Minnesota 89 FINAL
Chicago 96
Utah 104 FINAL
Denver 82
San Antonio 107 FINAL
Sacramento 96
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 101
Oklahoma City 112 FINAL
Portland 115
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 2
Calgary 1 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Washington 0 FINAL
Carolina 3
Chicago 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Colorado 5 FINAL(SO)
Dallas 4
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Siena 63 FINAL
Quinnipiac 73
Harvard 49 FINAL
Cornell 57
Penn 69 FINAL
Brown 75
Fairfield 65 FINAL
Canisius 72
Manhattan 75 FINAL
Iona 79
Saint Peters 67 FINAL
Marist 69
Princeton 60 FINAL
Yale 81
Ohio 58 FINAL
Akron 70
Dartmouth 84 FINAL
Columbia 71
Valparaiso 56 FINAL
Cleveland State 53
Louisiana Tech 75 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 88
Seton Hall 77 FINAL
Xavier 60
Cornell 54 FINAL
Harvard 60
Yale 49 FINAL
(14) Princeton 67
Elon 51 FINAL
Drexel 54
Northeastern 47 FINAL
James Madison 82
St Johns 60 FINAL
Butler 49
Creighton 71 FINAL
Georgetown 62
Brown 58 FINAL
Penn 75
Columbia 50 FINAL
Dartmouth 60
Canisius 54 FINAL
Siena 58
St Josephs Brooklyn 35 FINAL
Western Carolina 86 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 80
Colorado 66 FINAL
Arizona 51
Southern Ill 72 FINAL
Bradley 66
Drake 59 FINAL
Wichita State 80
Indiana State 71 FINAL
Evansville 53
Illinois State 53 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 67
Northern Iowa 70 FINAL
Missouri State 72
Utah 42 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 46
Providence 62 FINAL
Villanova 71


question of the day

Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters