Hartman: Despite loss, Gophers show promise with Leidner at QB

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2013 - 11:52 PM

Saturday’s game might have turned out better for the Gophers had a handful of key plays went their way, such as this 50-yard kickoff return by Marcus Jones, dragging Channing Stribline along. It was negated by a penalty.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

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For a score as lopsided as it was at 42-13, a Gophers team couldn’t play much better at Michigan than it did Saturday when it trailed 14-7 at halftime and it was in the game until the fourth quarter.

The score was tied 7-7 until the final minutes of the first half, and Michigan had scored its other touchdown after a fumble by quarterback Mitch Leidner deep in Gophers territory.

The Gophers, who were playing without Jerry Kill after the coach suffered a seizure Saturday morning, were still in the game late in the third quarter, trailing 21-10 but moving the ball.

Yes, there were some positives in this game for the Gophers. Look at how the offense performed for three quarters, compared to what it did against Iowa last weekend.

Against the Hawkeyes, the Gophers ran 27 times for 30 yards and passed for 135, a total of 165 yards of offense. Against a Michigan team that is no doubt superior to Iowa, which lost at home to Michigan State on Saturday, the Gophers ran for 136 yards and passed for 145 for a total of 281 yards.

Leidner, a surprise starter, rushed 18 times for 66 yards, more than double what the entire Gophers team did at home last week. And Leidner, who doesn’t have a great reputation as a passer, completed 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards, with a touchdown to Maxx Williams and one interception.

But the Gophers had no defense for Devin Gardner, who was supposed to be struggling for Michigan. He had thrown for 801 yards in the first four games this year but had seven touchdowns to go against eight interceptions. His previous game at UConn was easily his worst as a Wolverines starter, when he completed only 11 of 23 passes for 97 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

But against the Gophers he was playing like he did last season. Gardner went 13-for-17 for 235 yards passing with a TD and no interceptions. His 212.0 efficiency rating was the second highest in his career as a starter.

So if you want my opinion, after last week it looked like a hopeless finish to the season. But if the Gophers, led by Leidner at QB, can play like they did for three quarters Saturday, they will win some conference games.

U’s price tag for Vikings won’t change

While the Vikings are set to play their next two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium, don’t bet against them playing more games in London.

The Vikings’ 34-27 victory over Pittsburgh last weekend in London was so successful financially and otherwise that the team might play again in London, most likely in 2015, with 85,000 seats available at Wembley Stadium.

Even if the Vikings do travel overseas for one of their eight home games, they still will have to pay the University of Minnesota $3 million for each of the two seasons scheduled. That price is firm, regardless of the number of games played at the Gophers stadium.

“If we play in a playoff game we still pay $3 million, plus the gameday expenses,” said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs/stadium development. Those gameday expenses are about $500,000 per game, he said.

Meanwhile, while there was the big announcement Thursday of the agreement between the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, most everything was locked up before last weekend’s trip to London.

Two key members of the negotiation for the Vikings — Steve Poppen, VP of finance and chief financial officer, and Kevin Warren, vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer, didn’t go so they could help iron out some details.

“We finally agreed the day before the meeting,” Bagley said. “The final details, I mean the big issues, we were all agreed.”

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