ORLANDO – The Gophers had a lot to lament after Thursday’s 33-17 Citrus Bowl performance against Missouri. Mitch Leidner’s performance wasn’t one of them.
After completing just 37 percent of his passes in the final three regular-season games, the sophomore was 21-for-31 (67.7 percent) for a career-high 258 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s learning,” coach Jerry Kill said. “I thought if you watched him look people off — that’s what an extra 14, 15 practices gets you. And I keep telling people, you’ve got to be patient. Not everybody comes in as a freshman and wins the Heisman or something like that. Some people you’ve got to develop.”
Leidner came in ranked 119th nationally among full-time quarterbacks with a 49.0 completion percentage. After missing his first pass against Missouri, Leidner reeled off 14 consecutive completions, matching the school record set by Adam Weber against Bowling Green in 2008.
“The biggest thing is I think the offensive line did a great job up front,” Leidner said. “I couldn’t be more proud of those guys and how hard they worked in all these bowl practices to really play well against their defensive line.”
Leidner didn’t throw an interception, but he did lose two fumbles.
Asked if his two fumbles came on the two biggest hits of his career, Leidner said: “I’m not going to give Missouri that credit. Not the SEC, no. A lot bigger hits in the Big Ten. They just hit me in the right spot.”
Kill said Leidner “got smoked” on both fumbles, adding, “I don’t think there’s much he could do about it.”
Cobb can block, too
When Maxx Williams hurdled two defenders on his 54-yard touchdown reception, Kill went out of his way to commend David Cobb for his key block. Cobb picked up the blitzing safety, giving Leidner more time to make his pass.
Kill “was a little fired up, but I don’t know if he needed to congratulate me because it was my man,” Cobb said. “If you don’t get the ball, you have to help in some way. That’s my job.”
Cobb came a long way as a pass blocker between his sophomore and junior year, which set the stage for his breakout season last year.
After adding 21 carries for 81 yards Thursday, Cobb set single-season records for the Gophers in rushing attempts (314) and rushing yardage (1,626).
• Derrick Wells, who recorded a first-quarter interception, did not return to the game after getting injured on Maty Mauk’s 18-yard touchdown scramble in the third quarter. Wells, a senior defensive back playing in his final game, was checked for a concussion on the sideline.
• Jon Christenson, a junior who suffered a serious leg injury in November 2013, made his first start of the season, replacing Foster Bush at right guard.
• Alex Keith, who grew up in Columbia, Mo., near the University of Missouri, was eager to show the Tigers what they missed by not offering him a scholarship. He delivered three tackles, including a third-down stop in the first quarter when Mauk tried scrambling for a first down.