The Gophers coaching staff has been anything but predictable in picking a starting quarterback each week this season.
Mitch Leidner got a surprising start Saturday against Nebraska after Philip Nelson had performed better in the previous week’s victory at Northwestern.
Leidner led three drives against Nebraska, resulting in a punt, a touchdown and another punt. On the fourth possession, the Gophers turned to Nelson, and the team responded with another touchdown drive, capped by a 33-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Derrick Engel on fourth-and-10.
That gave the Gophers the lead, and they stuck with Nelson for the rest of the game.
“At this point, it’s just kind of a feel thing, and I think different opponents will dictate who that guy is, and who the starter’s going to be,” Gophers offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.
Leidner rushed four times for 2 yards, including one sack, and completed one of two passes for 7 yards. Nelson rushed eight times for 55 yards and completed seven of 15 passes for 152 yards.
“Coach [Jerry] Kill talked with both the quarterbacks, and he said, ‘The thing you can’t worry about is, we’re not going to have a starter each and every week, and it’s not going to be one guy that’s head and shoulders above the other. You’re both going to play. You’re both going to have to approach it that way,’ ” Limegrover said.
“The greatest thing about those two kids is there’s no ego there. Neither one of them is like, ‘I have to be the starter.’ At the end of the day, both collectively say, ‘Whatever it takes to win a football game, I’m in.’ ”
Offense opens up
Limegrover said the Gophers wanted to have some fun with their play-calling against Nebraska, using various misdirection plays and versions of the jet sweep, with receivers going in motion, taking the handoff and sprinting around the end.
“A lot of the jet sweep action stuff we had in the offense, we just didn’t put it into a concentrated effort,” Limegrover said.
Asked how he knew misdirection plays would work against Nebraska, Limegrover said, “I hate to pick open old wounds, but we watched [last season’s] Big Ten championship game a lot.”
That was a reference to Nebraska’s 70-31 loss to Wisconsin. The Gophers racked up 430 yards, compared to 328 for Nebraska.
“I think our success is going to put some confidence in the coaches to not be timid with the play calls,” Nelson said. “I think we can really start to build off some of the stuff we’re doing now because we’re really starting to become a dangerous offense.”
Coach making progress
Kill remains on leave to treat his epilepsy, but he spoke to the team before the game, at halftime and after the game. Acting head coach Tracy Claeys said Kill still has some steps to take before he’ll be ready to return to coaching full-time.
After the game, Kill recorded a message that the Gophers released on Twitter.
“I just want to tell all the fans out there how much we appreciate you,” Kill said. “Today, you were a difference. … Thank you, it’s a lot of fun and let’s keep moving forward.”