SAN DIEGO – In a twist of injury fate, Mitch Leidner wound up finishing his Gophers career with his brother, Matt, as the team’s starting center.
Matt Leidner walked on for the Gophers in 2013 and played sparingly until Tuesday night, when he started the Holiday Bowl against Washington State.
Sophomore Tyler Moore, who had started the previous 20 games at center, was out because of a back injury.
So the Leidner brothers added another chapter to their college career, after sharing a moment at the end of the team’s final home game this year. That was Senior Day for both players, and at the end of the win over Northwestern, Matt came in to give the game’s final snaps to Mitch.
That was something special for the team, but Tuesday’s situation spoke to the Gopher’ injury woes along the offensive line. Coach Tracy Claeys had hoped the line be closer to full strength by the bowl game, but starting guard Jared Weyler remained out because of a torn triceps.
Jonah Pirsig started at right tackle, but the 6-9 senior lined up at center during warmups with the second-team offense, just in case.
Smith at DB?
With four of the Gophers top six defensive backs suspended, 1,000-yard rusher Rodney Smith practiced some at defensive back leading up to the Holiday Bowl.
The coach staff had Smith ready to be part of the team’s “dollar” package, which uses six defensive backs at one time.
Smith wasn’t needed on defense. As for his offense, his fourth-quarter score gave the Gophers a 17-6 lead, and he finished with 17 carries for 74 yards.
Waiting by the phone
Amy Miller, wife of Gophers offensive line coach Bart Miller, is expecting the couple’s second child any day. Bart Miller was ready for the call all week, in case he needed to hop the next flight to Minnesota for the birth.
Emily Sherels, wife of Gophers linebackers coach Mike Sherels, gave birth to their first child, Valerie, in Houston when the team was at the 2012 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
• Gophers safety Duke McGhee received his third targeting ejection of the season — and the team’s eighth — with 19 seconds remaining, defending a two-point conversion attempt.
• Coney Durr, a true freshman who made his first collegiate start at cornerback, suffered an knee injury in the third quarter.
• Defensive tackle Steven Richardson also left the game because of a leg injury in the third quarter.