Red flags emerged Saturday for the Gophers after their 14-7 loss to Iowa, when they didn’t make quarterback Mitch Leidner available to the media.
Leidner doesn’t duck reporters. Was he banged up?
“No, he’s not banged up,” coach Tracy Claeys said Sunday. “The defense played well; they were the ones that deserved to talk to the media.”
So after falling to 0-2 in Big Ten play, the Gophers left it up to Claeys to explain, along with running back Shannon Brooks and linebackers Jon Celestin and Nick Rallis.
Leidner completed only 13 of 33 passes for 166 yards, with two interceptions. He played the whole game, taking some hard shots, especially on a third-quarter run to the sideline. There were rumors on message boards that Leidner had concussion symptoms after the game.
“He never would have gone back in the game if he had a concussion,” Claeys said. “He jumped right back up and went back in and played. So if that is the case, they know more than I do. That’s the problem with message boards, but that’s part of life.”
After studying video, Claeys didn’t sugarcoat the offense’s performance against an Iowa team that had suffered losses to North Dakota State (23-21) and Northwestern (38-31).
“You should win when you hold teams to 14 points or lower, especially in today’s football,” Claeys said.
Did Iowa’s defense play better than expected, or did Minnesota’s offense just not deliver?
Claeys noted that North Dakota State, Rutgers and Northwestern averaged 210 rushing yards against Iowa, while the Gophers managed just 102.
“So that’s a problem,” Claeys said. “We got to figure out a cause of the problem and fix it.”
Considering how well the Gophers had been running the ball and how much Leidner struggled, it was surprising to see him get 33 passing attempts, while Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for just 21 rushing attempts.
“We couldn’t get any movement [in the running game],” Claeys said. “I’m telling you, if you know football, and you get your butt kicked up front, there isn’t a lot you can do about it. So we’ve got to solve that problem.”
At Penn State, Claeys was aggressive before halftime, pushing the offense toward a field goal before time expired.
On Saturday, Claeys took caution. With Iowa leading 3-0, the Hawkeyes faced third-and-18 from their 34-yard line with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. The Gophers had all three timeouts but were content heading to the locker room.
To that point, they had six drives — and zero first downs.
“We needed to get to halftime,” Claeys said. “If we were moving the ball and doing some things, I would have played that completely different. But no, we needed to get in and try to get some things straightened out.”
To some extent they did. They outscored Iowa 7-3 in the third quarter, getting a 9-yard touchdown run from Brooks.
Iowa made two fourth-quarter turnovers, but the Gophers had their own self-inflicted wounds, with a Leidner interception and three false-start penalties. Claeys said the penalties were on Leidner for not waiting for players to get set.
“You can’t have the penalties we had on offense and score,” Claeys said.
With their poor offensive performance, the Gophers left themselves vulnerable to one big play. Iowa got it on Akrum Wadley’s 54-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run.
Afterward, much of the public’s criticism fell on Leidner.
Defensive tackle Steven Richardson tweeted: “Mitch is my QB and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. We are good.”
Wide receiver Rashad Still tweeted: “Love my Qb.”
Claeys said he spoke to Leidner after the game, telling the senior the team will play better next week at Maryland.
“This is not Mitch’s problem,” Claeys said. “I’m not saying he played the best, but we’ve got to play better up front. That’s all there is to it.”
Joe Christensen covers college football for the Star Tribune. E-mail: email@example.com