Rhoda prepared for first career start

The redshirt junior will fill in for injured starting quarterback Mitch Leidner.

Mike Hendrickson

It’s been over two years since someone not named Mitch Leidner has started at quarterback for the Gophers, but that will likely change Saturday.

Redshirt junior Conor Rhoda will make his first career start at Maryland, as Leidner suffered a concussion during Saturday’s game against Iowa. He is currently going through concussion protocol.

Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said Rhoda had a big smile when he found out he would start at quarterback.

“I talked to Rhoda [Tuesday] morning. I told him, ‘Hey, it’s on us this week,’” Wolitarsky said. “We’re going to get together, watch film, [and] get him prepared. He’s excited.”

Rhoda was listed behind Leidner and sophomore Demry Croft last season at quarterback. Rhoda overtook Croft and won the backup job in the spring and took a lot of reps with the first-team offense as Leidner recovered from foot surgery.

Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson said Rhoda has done a nice job learning the playbook since Johnson arrived in January.

“Conor’s really sharp and he’s been handling things really well; always has,” Johnson said. We’re going to continue to do what we do and just get him ready to go.”

There’s one thing that’s constantly brought up about Rhoda: his arm strength.

“He throws a good ball, he’s got one of the strongest arms out of all of us QBs, and I know the receivers agree as well,” Leidner said last month. “He’s just kind of stayed the course, done what was asked of him, and he ended up coming out and having a very solid camp.”

Wolitarsky said that while he hasn’t worked with Rhoda a lot recently, he knows where his talents are.

“He likes to sling the rock. He throws really hard,” Wolitarsky said. “We’re going to have to tape our fingers this week.”

Rhoda walked onto the team in 2013. He was named the Offensive Work Team Player of the Year last season and also received a scholarship.

He is from Eagan and played football and baseball at Cretin-Derham Hall high school.

In his senior year of high school, Rhoda rushed for 550 yards and three touchdowns along with 1,400 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air.

Leidner is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game among quarterbacks.

Johnson said that Rhoda’s ability to run will help keep the game plan the same against Maryland.

“[Rhoda’s] running game is solid. I think sometimes people underestimate him so I feel good about it,” Johnson said. “We always try to certainly match your play and scheme with who you have but I think we can really for the most part remain unchanged and move forward.”

Head coach Tracy Claeys said that because of how prepared Rhoda is, there is no need to simplify the offense’s plan at Maryland.

“He knows what we’re doing offensively and all that, so he’ll be prepared and do his best,” Claeys said. “We’ve got enough weapons and we just need to do what we do best and do it well.