ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Saturday morning could’ve been a bit stressful for Minnesota redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner.
Shortly after finding out that head coach Jerry Kill wouldn’t be making the trip to Michigan for the Gophers’ match up with No. 19 Michigan, Leidner discovered that he’d be Minnesota’s starting quarterback for the game, as well.
The compounded news could’ve rattled a young player. But Leidner proceeded with a business-as-usual attitude.
“I prepared for it,” Leidner said. “Sometimes you don’t really expect something like that, but overall, we just have to keep doing what we do.”
Leidner’s calm demeanor wasn’t enough to spur a Gophers victory, but offensively they did keep it close in the first half, going into halftime down 14-7, including one 75-yard scoring drive capped with a 7-yard TD pass.
However, Michigan had a big second half and ended up putting away the Gophers, 42-13.
But Leidner’s attitude didn’t surprise his teammates (though him starting did, as many didn’t know who would start until the game did), including his roommate, redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams.
“Mitch is always prepared to play,” Williams said. “Mitch is a major competitor, and when he got that ball and he got ready to play, you know he’s going to go out there and try to make plays the best he can, and that’s what he did.”
While Leidner didn’t know until Saturday morning, acting head coaching Tracy Claeys said the decision was made by the offensive coaches earlier last week after sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson's disappointing performance against Iowa, which led to a 23-7 loss in Minneapolis.
“After last week’s game, they evaluated and that decision was made earlier in the week, and so they decided to give Mitch his chance,” Claeys said. “I’ve always felt like Mitch deserved the opportunity to get the start.”
The game started off rocky for Leidner, with a fumble on the Gophers’ first drive, but he picked up his play and finished the day with one touchdown, 145 passing yards and 66 rushing yards.
“I prepared all week long and just tried to show it the best I could today,” Leidner said.
This doesn’t solve Minnesota’s quarterback question by any means, but it definitely gives Leidner a case.
Claeys said that Nelson’s advantage is that he has more game-time throwing experience, but Leidner looked solid against a relatively stout Michigan defense. His one interception came at the very end of the game, and Michigan cornerback Blake Countess made the most of it, returning the interception 72 yards for a touchdown.
But overall, Claeys was happy with Leidner's first start on the road.
“I really thought he made some big plays with his legs and executed really pretty good,” Claeys said. “The thing is, when you’re young and playing quarterback, as everyone knows, that’s not an easy gig ... For the most part he stayed away from the mistakes.”