Hartman: Leidner gets chance to be in Iowa rivalry

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2013 - 6:08 AM

The QB has filled in superbly for Philip Nelson and hopes to help bring Floyd of Rosedale back to Minnesota.

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.”

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