Mitch Leidner didn’t have the typical Saturday night for a college student. He was replaying the Gophers’ 10-7 victory over Kent State hours earlier and apparently anguishing. At one point, he called coach Jerry Kill, pledging to be better.
“He’s not the only one,” Kill said Sunday. “I mean, these kids care. I had several of them call me, and they’re afraid they’re letting me down — everybody down. I mean, how would you like to be the quarterback or the offensive line walking out of that stadium? Those guys get abused.”
Kill said his top priority this week is restoring his offensive players’ confidence before what figures to be an even tougher test Saturday against Frank Solich’s 3-0 Ohio squad.
With an injury-depleted offensive line, the Gophers rushed for just 104 yards against Kent State. Leidner completed 17 of 27 passes for 184 yards but remained inconsistent, tossing two interceptions. The Gophers had true freshman quarterback Demry Croft warming up on the sidelines, but Leidner wound up playing the whole game.
Kill deferred all quarterback questions to later in the week.
“You can ask me Tuesday, and I’m not going to answer any of them,” Kill said. “Because everybody will spin it the way they want to. They did last week anyway. So you’ve got some people saying this kid ought to start, and you’ve got some people, this kid ought to start.
“Like I said, we’ve got a lot of things to take a look at to have the best unit out there.”
Illinois had throttled Kent State 52-3 two weeks earlier, so Minnesota’s comparative futility led to some booing from the announced sellout crowd at TCF Bank Stadium. Kill came away from his press conference wondering if everyone knew the Gophers had won the game.
“This is the strangest situation I’ve ever been in in coaching,” he said. “We’re 2-1, and people are beating the [snot] out of us. It’s unusual. Do we need to get better? Yeah. But I worry about our kids because our kids act like we’re 0-3.”
During the presser, when asked about the booing, Kill said: “Maybe I need to get fired tomorrow. I don’t know. We don’t have an AD, so I can’t get fired tomorrow, but they’re probably booing me. They probably deserve to boo me. I probably deserve to be fired today. So is that good enough for you? Huh? I’m just asking?”
Norwood Teague resigned last month, but the Gophers do indeed have an athletics director – interim AD Beth Goetz. Kill apologized to her after the press conference. He clarified his remarks Sunday.
“I think people took me out of context,” he said. “If I don’t get the job done, I should be fired. I’ve got no issues with that. Because I’m the guy who’s running the show.
“I’m always going to protect the kids. They aren’t NFL players. They’re college football players. You guys have a right to [criticize in the media]. I don’t have a problem with that. But I’m not throwing [players] under the bus. I’ll always take the heat.”
While fans fixate on Leidner, the Gophers’ bigger concern is the offensive line. Besides getting beat physically Saturday, they nearly went around the horn with 10-yard holding penalties — by tight end Nate Wozniak, left tackle Jonah Pirsig, left guard Joe Bjorklund and right tackle Josh Campion.
“We haven’t had those things since I’ve been here, not even when we weren’t very good,” Kill said. “So we got whipped up front, and it’s hard to be successful in the other areas. That’s not one individual. That’s several individuals.”
Kill said the Gophers might need to pull a redshirt from someone such as Tyler Moore to help reinforce the offensive line. These decisions will need to be made quickly, with the Big Ten opener coming Oct. 3 against Northwestern, which is 3-0 with wins over Stanford and Duke.
First, the Gophers face Ohio, which has a win over Marshall, a 13-win team from last season.
“Frank Solich — I mean they’re bringing in a good Ohio team,” Kill said. “Everybody will go ‘Ohio?’ Shoot, they’ve been a powerhouse in the MAC [Mid-American Conference], too. So there are no gimme games. I said that very early in the year. You better come to play.”