Column: Lack of improvement passing becomes downfall for Gophers

David Nelson

It seemed all too ironic that on the day the Gophers faced off against one of the NCAA’s most potent rushing attacks, Minnesota showed just how putrid its passing offense could be.

The Gophers completed only five of 18 passing attempts and mustered just 95 yards through the air.

Against a Wisconsin team that has made Minnesota its personal punching bag for 11 consecutive seasons, that sort of performance wasn’t strong enough to overcome the Badgers.

“They were able to get some pressure on me,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner told reporters after the game. “Their secondary did a good job downfield.”

While it would be easy for many fans and pundits to put the loss on the young quarterback’s shoulders, the Gophers’ struggles in other areas account for portions of the loss to the Badgers.

Minnesota’s struggles moving the ball vertically are especially concerning because they happened during the last game of the regular season.

Issues with the passing game were apparent in the first few games of the year.

The lack of improvement throwing the football over the course of 12 games was a storyline that flew under the radar during the season because of the Gophers’ vast improvement in other facets of their game.

But now that the issue stands front and center, it’s time someone takes responsibility for it.

Did the passing offense not improve because of the insurmountable pressure Leidner felt playing in the most important game of his career?

Was it because the receivers couldn’t get open or couldn’t make the catch?

Or was it because the coaching staff couldn’t find a way to get the most out of the redshirt sophomore quarterback?

Whatever the reason behind the struggle, it doesn’t really matter with just a bowl game remaining on the season’s schedule.

But the passing woes are something that must be resolved before Minnesota kicks off the 2015 season.

The more disturbing fact of this trend is the potential impact these struggles might have on recruiting.

It might be hard for head coach Jerry Kill to convince a pure pocket passer to come to Minnesota after the Gophers finished dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing.

That’s not to say recruits won’t be enticed by the vast improvements Minnesota made this season — there is plenty to be excited about after the 8-4 season.

But ultimately, the lack of development in one of the most important facets of the offense became the downfall for Minnesota, and it’s one of the reasons the Gophers aren’t heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.