Gophers find success with no-huddle offense

Minnesota finds comfort in a sped-up passing game

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner faces pressure on Thursday evening at TCF Bank Stadium.  The Gophers lost to Texas Christian University 23-17 in their first game of the season.

Joe Sulik

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner faces pressure on Thursday evening at TCF Bank Stadium. The Gophers lost to Texas Christian University 23-17 in their first game of the season.

Mike Hendrickson

While the Gophers were able to escape with a 23-20 overtime victory Saturday against Colorado State, their passing attack struggled.

Minnesota was able to find success at times, though, mostly in their no-huddle offense, a tactic where the team gets to the line of scrimmage faster to run more plays and tire out the defense.

“[Quarterback Mitch Leidner] is probably the most comfortable when we’re in no-huddle right now,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “That’s where he’s performed the best. He doesn’t have to think as much and he [can] just go play.”

For Leidner, that comfort helps him be more decisive.

“You get to make reads a little bit quicker and get the ball out of your hands faster,” Leidner said.

The Gophers offensive line tends to make more mistakes running plays in the no-huddle, but it’s still led to more successful plays, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said.

The defenses Minnesota faces often simplify with the no-huddle because they have to line up so fast.

Kill and his staff don’t plan to use the no-huddle offense on every play, but they want to use it as a spark plug when their offense is struggling.

Over the summer, Kill talked about the no-huddle offense with NFL running back Shane Vereen, the brother of former Minnesota safety Brock Vereen. Vereen spent four seasons with the New England Patriots, and Kill said he learned that when the Patriots have trouble, they often resort to the no-huddle offense before switching back.

Ideally, the Gophers want their system to run like that, Kill said.

“To do no-huddle all the time, if you talk to [defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys], from the defensive side of the ball, it’s a lot easier if [offenses] go no-huddle all the time,” Kill said. “It’s a lot easier than having somebody go no-huddle and then huddle up.”

The Gophers have been working on the no-huddle offense a lot since the start of the spring practice to give their offense an extra dimension.

“It’s almost second nature to us,” tight end Nate Wozniak said. “Just get in there, pick up the speed and keep going.”

With or without a huddle, the Gophers need to increase their offensive output, especially in the passing game.

Minnesota currently ranks third to last in the Big Ten in passer rating, after ranking second to last in passing yards per game in the conference last season.

A contributing factor so far this season to the weak passing game is the health of the offensive line, which has been battling injuries. Starting left guard Jon Christenson had knee surgery on Monday and is expected to be out for three to four weeks.

“Depth is going to be tested,” Limegrover said. “You just do as much as you can early in the week, get those guys back ready to go … We’ll be okay by the end of the week. We just got a little banged up.”