Gophers seek pass protection growth

Improved pass protection should lead to improved quarterback play.

Grant Donald

The Gophers finished last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, more than 600 yards less than the next closest team.

Three games into this season, the Gophers find themselves in the same place.

Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner has thrown for 362 yards, which is second to last among Big Ten starting quarterbacks.

However, offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said the passing game struggles don’t fall completely on Leidner’s shoulders, as the quarterback hasn’t been getting enough time in the pocket.

“I think everybody wants to focus on Mitch. He’s got to feel comfortable,” Limegrover said. “I don’t think he feels comfortable now going back and throwing the football. So what’s happening is he’s trying to do too much and it’s getting him in trouble. I think that has to start up front [with the offensive line].”

The offensive line is experiencing problems partly because of injuries. Redshirt senior Zac Epping and redshirt sophomores Ben Lauer and Jonah Pirsig have all been hurt throughout the season, but Limegrover said that’s no excuse.

“We just haven’t quite meshed yet, and I think that’s a function of maybe the guys just trying to get used to a new year,” Limegrover said.

The problems on the offensive line were highlighted last weekend as TCU recorded two sacks and four quarterback hurries. As a result, the Gophers’ passing game never gained momentum and struggled throughout the game.

Though the offense struggled to protect its quarterback, head coach Jerry Kill said he’s glad it had this learning opportunity before Big Ten play begins next week.

“We know right now truly what we need to get fixed,” Kill said. “We can play better on the offensive line, but we’ve got to play better offensively as a whole.”

He also said the running backs need to work on their pass protection in order to improve the offense.

“You got to pass protect. There is a lot more to playing running back than just running the football. You run the football all day, you can’t pass protect and it’s hard to get on the field,” Kill said.

The Gophers should be better equipped to deal with this week’s opponent, San Jose State. The Spartans have recorded only one sack all year.

That should come as a relief for Leidner and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Streveler, who finished the game against TCU.

Streveler experienced a small dose of the pressure TCU put on Leidner but he’s confident the line will respond this week.

“You always have to assume [the offensive line] is going to respond well. They are such a resilient group of guys, and they work so hard every week. They will be ready to go,” Streveler said.