Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had a bandage covering a large gash on his right hand and a walking boot on his left foot Saturday when he limped into the postgame news conference.
Asked if he’d be ready for next Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, Leidner said, “Nothing keeping me from that game. Gotta get healthy this week though.”
Leidner had passed for at least 250 yards in the previous four games, matching the school record set by Mike Hohensee in 1982.
But unlike Minnesota’s previous four opponents — Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa — Illinois made it more inviting to run than throw. Leidner finished 15-for-25 for just 88 yards. Leidner’s 202 completions are the most in Gophers history for a junior, surpassing the 200 by Cory Sauter in 1996.
Leidner also had 10 carries for a season-high 64 rushing yards, including a career-long 33 yarder that helped set up a first-quarter touchdown. The junior credited the offensive line for keeping Illinois without a sack.
The line has been missing three starters — Brian Bobek, Ben Lauer and Josh Campion — and Jonah Pirsig played through a right elbow injury against Illinois. The two starting guards, Jon Christenson and Joe Bjorklund, are both playing through knee injuries.
“They do a great job with that for what they’re working with,” Leidner said. “A lot of toughness going on down there in the trenches.”
Defensive tackle Steven Richardson, who missed the previous two games with a strained calf, started against Illinois but limped off the field in the first quarter and didn’t return.
Coach Tracy Claeys views Richardson and Scott Ekpe (unspecified injury) as All-Big Ten defensive tackles and lamented how much the Gophers missed them last week against Iowa. Having Richardson back next week against Wisconsin, a similar downhill running team to Iowa, would be a big break for the Gophers.
It’s unclear if Richardson will be ready.
Ankle bothering Smith
Rodney Smith entered Saturday as the Gophers leading rusher with 550 yards despite missing last week’s Iowa game with a sprained right ankle.
He returned for Illinois, but after two first-quarter carries for 11 yards, Smith didn’t play.
“We tried and it wasn’t ready.” Claeys said of Smith’s ankle.
Shannon Brooks rushed 17 times for 174 yards and surpassed Smith with 636 yards on the season.
Senior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun continues to play through a right knee injury suffered Sept. 28 against Ohio. The All-Big Ten selection from last year missed a couple of tackles against Illinois and got beat on the first-quarter touchdown pass to Malik Turner.
Boddy-Calhoun also jumped offsides on a third-quarter field goal attempt, which gave Illinois a first down and led to a touchdown.
“You give up four points right there, and it all goes back to fundamentals,” Claeys said. “It goes back to seeing the ball snapped before you go. He’s trying to time it up and get a good jump to get the field goal blocked.
“But at that time in the game we’ve got to play smarter in that situation.”
Cold but not coldest
The game-time temperature of 22 degrees was the third-coldest for a Gophers game at TCF Bank Stadium. It was 15 degrees for last November’s loss to Ohio State, and 18 degrees for the November 2013 loss to Wisconsin.