Mitch Leidner made his 34th start as a college quarterback on Saturday. He played in his 40th career game.
He looked like a redshirt freshman.
He missed wide receivers high and wide. He forced passes into double coverage. He stared down receivers and threw two interceptions. He didn’t crack 100 yards passing until one last desperation drive.
One week after throwing a critical interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of a loss at Penn State, Leidner became a liability for the Gophers offense. Again.
He didn’t play like a poised, experienced senior quarterback facing a border rival for the final time. Instead, Leidner had one of the worst performances of his inconsistent career in a deflating 14-7 dud against the Iowa Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium.
Leidner wasn’t alone in misery. The entire offense stunk. Same thing for Iowa, with the exception of one long touchdown run that temporarily paused the incompetence being displayed.
The two offenses set football back decades. There was nothing exciting, creative or interesting about either one. Watching both offenses literally felt like a three-hour root canal.
They couldn’t even put lipstick on that poor pig, Floyd of Rosedale.
This loss stings more than others. Gophers coach Tracy Claeys wasn’t bashful in his expectations before the season. Now his team is 0-2 in the Big Ten.
The game wasn’t even a sellout. The Bank had lots of empty seats for a hated rival. Not an ideal way for a coach with a prove-it contract to impress his new boss, Mark Coyle.
The Gophers lost because their offense did nothing. They needed their senior quarterback to step up and make plays, do something to pull them out of the doldrums. Leidner kept misfiring.
He threw incompletions on his first six attempts. For the game, he completed only 13 of 33 passes for 166 yards and two interceptions. He nearly had a third interception, but it was dropped.
His receivers contributed to the mess with a case of butterfingers, dropping three or four catchable passes.
A chunk of Leidner’s measly production came on the last drive as the Gophers hurried to try to tie the score. Leidner completed four passes for 75 yards as the offense moved inside Iowa’s 20-yard line.
But four consecutive incompletions — the final one in the end zone — punctuated an infuriating performance and bad loss to a team that came to town reeling.
Claeys pinned the offense’s ineptitude on his line, not his quarterback. The fact that hard-nosed Shannon Brooks got only 10 carries seems almost criminal.
“I mean, it’s pretty obvious, we got whipped up front,” Claeys said. “On those days you get whipped up front, you don’t have a very good chance.”
Maybe he was just trying to protect Leidner, but Claeys’ summation missed the mark as bad as Leidner’s passes. Yes, the line got outplayed by Iowa’s defensive front. But Leidner wasn’t running for dear life on every play. He had time to complete throws, and he failed.
Leidner wasn’t made available for interviews after the game so it’s unclear whether he would have supported his coach’s theory.
Leidner didn’t duck reporters. That’s not his style. The team made the call to not make him available, according to a school official.
Leidner has experienced tough moments throughout his career. This one ranks among the lowest.
A solid performance in a win over Iowa would have helped reshape the narrative of his career. Instead, his costly Penn State interception coupled with what happened Saturday only reinforces negative perceptions and shows he’s made little, if any, tangible improvement in his career.
Iowa won the time of possession by nearly 10 minutes. The Gophers’ inability to generate anything made a 6-0 deficit look insurmountable.
Receivers dropped passes. Leidner sailed throws. Rodney Smith lost a fumble. The line, well, Claeys made it clear how he feels about that unit.
Leidner took some hits, but the worst came on a designed run. Iowa safety Brandon Snyder knocked him off his feet along the sideline. Leidner was slow to get up but stayed in the game.
Some fans undoubtedly will scream for a quarterback change, but that’s not happening. The Gophers have stuck with Leidner this long. They’re not going to reverse course now.
He’s still their best option, a sobering reality after watching the first two conference games of his senior season.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org