Some media members continue to criticize Mitch Leidner, despite the fact he has started 18 college football games and has a 11-7 record — the first Gophers quarterback with a better-than-.500 winning percentage in some time. Coach Jerry Kill made it clear the former Lakeville South star is going to be the team’s starting quarterback going forward.
The last Gophers quarterback to have a winning record over two seasons was Bryan Cupito, who went 20-17 over three seasons from 2004-2006 under Glen Mason.
“It’s just like anything, we have to keep him healthy and he needs to continue to improve,” Kill said. “I think that he did a great job of bringing us back [in the Gophers’ 23-20 overtime victory over Colorado State on Saturday]. We don’t win the game if he doesn’t take us down the field and score. It’s one of those things, you look at eight or nine plays in the game that you wish you had made and then nobody is saying anything, and the other thing is he’s thrown the ball 150 or 160 times without an interception.
“He’s doing some good things. But people are critical of that position, just like they’re critical of me. I get e-mails all the time that I need to do this and I’m not very good at this and they need to hire somebody else as a coach when we don’t do very well. That’s just part of being a quarterback. Our whole football team on offense has to continue to improve and the offense reflects him.”
Leidner has completed 42 of 80 passes on the season for 430 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also has rushed 23 times for 70 yards.
Kill was asked why he wants Leidner as his starter.
“Right now, first of all, he’s getting some experience,” Kill said. “He didn’t play a lot as a [redshirt] freshman, he played last year and he’s got knowledge of the game. He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid, and the kids follow him. They believe in him. They want a mentally tough quarterback, and he’s a good leader. So I mean that’s what makes him, probably why the kids follow him. I mean, he played with an MCL [injury]. Nobody does that at quarterback, put a brace on.
“I mean, he’s been beat up from running the ball, saw him this past week get hit good and just gets up and keeps playing. I think his mental toughness rubs off on the kids. That’s his biggest strength. He knows he has to continue to get better at throwing the ball, but you know frankly, when we’ve gone no-huddle and in the two-minute offense, we don’t win the [Colorado State] game if he doesn’t take us 80 yards or whatever it was, boom-boom-boom down the field. You judge a quarterback by wins and losses, and if we start getting our butts kicked we’ll need to think about it, but right now we’ve played two very tough teams. If you look at our schedule, it’s just like people said, for back-to-back games there’s nobody that played a tougher schedule than we have.”
Kill believes Leidner has improved from a year ago and has to continue to improve.
“But hell, we all have to, our whole team does,” Kill said. “We have a situation where we have three offensive linemen that have been out hurt. You have to have your full guys in there to be efficient. It’s not one guy, it’s several of us that have to get better, including me.”
Leidner said he takes Kill’s advice and doesn’t pay any attention to outside criticism.
“No, I stay out of that stuff,” he said. “Coach has always told me to stay away from it, don’t look at it, and that’s how I do it. I stay off all of that stuff. No worries. I don’t have Twitter.”
Does Leidner have complete confidence in himself?
“Yes sir, definitely,” he said.
Leidner believes he is playing some of his best football, but he knows the offense has to be more consistent. He said it’s natural to miss players such as tight end Maxx Williams and running back David Cobb, who are now in the NFL, but the Gophers offense has some playmakers filling those spots.
“I think our receivers actually have done a good job stepping up and our tight ends are playing great, as well,” Leidner said. “Big [tight ends] Nate Wozniak and Brandon Lingen and Nick Hart stepping up this weekend as well. I think we have done a good job filling in that depth there.”
Leidner, who rushed for 452 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, says he will still look for opportunities to run.
“Whatever play gets called, if it’s my read to run it, then I’ll do it,” he said.
Leidner is a great kid who I have gotten to know well. The Gophers’ chances to win are at their best with him at the helm. There are some other good quarterbacks on the team, but none of them have Leidner’s experience and leadership to do the job.
• Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who played a big part in getting Target Field built, has tried to help get a new soccer stadium built on the Minneapolis Farmers Market site. But Bill McGuire, the leader of the Minnesota United group trying to get the stadium built for a Major League Soccer franchise, hasn’t been in contact with Opat for weeks and as a result, the stadium probably will be built in St. Paul.
• The Vikings’ 20-3 loss at San Francisco on Monday wasn’t that big a surprise if you check the team’s road record over the past five years. They were 9-31-1.
• The Lions, the Vikings’ opponent on Sunday, gave up 483 yards in losing 33-28 to San Diego in Week 1. That was the most yardage they had given up since Week 17 of the 2011 season.
• One concern for the Lions this week might be the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who suffered a right upper arm injury last week on a hit by Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram. Stafford said he lost sensation in his arm for a while during the game and has worn a protective sleeve at times during practice this week.
• Things look promising that highly recruited Hopkins shooting guard Amir Coffey, son of former Gophers center Richard Coffey, will wind up at Minnesota after the two had a good recent visit with Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino. … The passing game coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines football team is Jedd Fisch, who was Gophers offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach under Tim Brewster in 2009.
• It’s understandable why Eden Prairie football coach Mike Grant, who has coached the Eagles for 23 years and to 10 state titles, ranks JD Spielman one of the best, if not the best football player he has coached. JD, the son of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, returned a kick for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown, rushed for a touchdown, grabbed an interception and made several other great defensive plays in Eden Prairie’s 28-20 victory over Maple Grove on Friday.
• The Twin Cities Dunkers, a group of local businessmen, have raised $110,939 this year and $355,682 over five years for athletic equipment such as uniforms, shoes, etc. for Minneapolis and St. Paul high schools.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org