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Continued: Hartman: Fan and media criticism doesn't bother Vikings' Ponder

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 15, 2013 - 12:03 AM

Bad start for Gophers

How could the Gophers get off to a worse start than they did Saturday against Western Illinois, a FCS team? They lost starting quarterback Philip Nelson in the first quarter; scored only seven points while gaining only 116 yards in the first half; and then lost coach Jerry Kill to another seizure at the break.

But fortunately things worked out well, both for Kill, who was back home by Saturday evening, and at quarterback, where Mitch Leidner came in and sparked the team to a 29-12 victory over Western Illinois. He completed seven of eight passes for 105 yards and ran 17 times for 64 yards, showing tremendous poise for a player who redshirted last season and had played very little in college before Saturday.

One person not surprised in the performance by Leidner was defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who served as acting coach in the second half.

“I’ll tell you what, when you get in a tough situation like that and the game is still in the balance and you have to put in your second quarterback, I mean wow, what a performance he made,” Claeys said. “He was with us all last year on defense [as the scout team quarterback] because he redshirted, and I can tell you this, every coach on the defensive staff has a tremendous amount of respect for him because he’s a great competitor.

“I think he showed that when things were struggling, he took over the game and made the plays he had to make, without getting as many reps in practice. He loves the game of football, there’s no question about that. It showed today.”

This was two different halves of football by the Gophers, who followed their worst first half of the season by playing an improved second half that won the game.

But they won’t beat any Big Ten teams playing a first half like they did Saturday, when they were completely outplayed by the lower-division Leathernecks.

SID’s JOTTINGS

• Jay Cutler was asked what his reaction was when Marc Trestman was hired as Bears coach. “I met with him before we hired him, so I had an idea of what I was getting into,” the controversial Bears quarterback said. “It has been fun. It has been a process getting to know each other through the OTAs and the minicamps and in the summer during training camp and then finally to this past week. It has been give and take about the things that he likes to do on the field and the things I like to do. I think he has been really receptive to my ideas and the guys on the offense and what they’re good at. We’re not done yet. We’re still figuring things out.”

• Trestman was asked how Chicago wound up with rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills at right guard and right tackle and if he believes his team can with that little experience at those positions. “It was just based on practice and the work and the things that we did over the OTAs and the minicamps and training camp. We just projected them to be better players over the long haul and were good enough that we could play them early and work through their growth as linemen. It wasn’t something we made a quick decision.”

• Bobby Jackson, the former Gophers and NBA guard and new Timberwolves assistant coach, talked about how much influence Wolves coach Rick Adelman had on him when he played for Adelman in Sacramento. “It’s funny, but when I went to Sacramento I had left here [playing for the Wolves],” Jackson said. “They gave me the opportunity to be the player that I was capable of being. I was an energy guy.” He also played defense, saying, “That is what really started our relationship, because I played defense and changed the game when I got on the court.”

• Former Gophers basketball standout Trevor Mbakwe played his first game with Virtus Roma in Italy, scoring 14 points in an exhibition against Dinamo Basket Sassari.

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  • Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, warming up before last week’s season-opening loss at Detroit, said of the criticism directed at him following that performance: “I don’t know what’s being said, and I couldn’t care less.”

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