It wasn’t just a big performance from his senior wide receiver that made Mitch Leidner look impressive in Saturday’s 58-28 victory over Indiana State, Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said Tuesday.
Leidner completed 20 of 30 passes for 295 yards and tied a career high with four touchdown passes. Drew Wolitarsky caught eight passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
But Claeys recognized Leidner’s progress as a passer from the season opener, when he completed only 13 of 26 passes for 130 yards and no touchdowns against Oregon State.
“Drew made a lot of big catches, but [Leidner] continues to throw the ball around to a lot of different people,” Claeys said Tuesday during the Gophers’ bye week. “That tells me that he’s going through his progressions the way he should to spread out the ball to whoever’s open.”
Leidner also had to run only three times (for 9 yards) against Indiana State, after opening with a heavy load: 13 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns in the 30-23 win over Oregon State.
The Gophers also dropped some catchable balls early Saturday, which would have put Leidner well over the 300-yard passing mark for the third time in his career. But he didn’t get discouraged with another slow start for the offense.
“I went over to [tight end Nate Wozniak] on the sidelines after that second [drop]” Leidner said. “I was like ‘Hey, you have great hands, I’m going to keep coming at you.’ So it was a great job by him to be able to respond come back and make that huge catch.”
Last season, the 6-4 Lakeville native became the second quarterback in program history to pass for 250 yards or more in four consecutive games. Mike Hohensee also did it in 1982. But turnovers were a major issue for Leidner, who had three games with at least two interceptions.
He hasn’t thrown an interception this year through two games. Part of the reason is because he hasn’t been focusing on just one target. That wasn’t the case last year when he often tried to force the ball to his go-to receiver KJ Maye, who has graduated.
“If you always look for one receiver all the time, it gets a little bit easier to defend,” Claeys said. “He’s definitely going through the progressions and what he’s taught.”
Leidner’s passer rating on Saturday was 193.3, the second highest of his career. His best game was 267.6 was in a 51-14 victory over Iowa in 2014.
Although it was against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, Saturday’s game was a confidence boost, Leidner said, getting him back on track after struggling a bit in Game 1.
“Just being comfortable and confident in my throws and in my bad foot and knowing that everything’s all good now,” he said Saturday.
“Really emphasized that in practice [last] week, and I was able to carry it over to the game.”