Editor’s note: This is the first entry in a new sports column, “Ya feel me?” Each week, sports columnist Sam Gordon will weigh in on the latest sports happenings at the University.
He went for 151 rushing yards and a quarterback school-record four rushing touchdowns in his first career start.
His performance helped turn a shootout into a one-sided blowout.
And not even an hour after the game, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill relegated redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner to backup status.
After Leidner led the Gophers to their most inspiring win of the season — a 43-24 victory over San Jose State — Kill proclaimed at his postgame press conference that the injured Philip Nelson will be the team’s starting quarterback going forward.
If that holds true, Kill and his coaches will renege on the injury policy they’ve preached all fall.
Gophers coaches have said through the first month of the season that if a starter gets hurt and the backup performs at a higher level, the backup then becomes the new starter.
And so far, Leidner has done just that.
The redshirt freshman took over for Nelson, who injured his hamstring midway through the second quarter of the Gophers’ 29-12 win over Western Illinois.
It took one drive for Leidner to lead the offense, which was sputtering under Nelson, to its first touchdown of the game.
Leidner and company haven’t slowed down since.
In the six-plus quarters Leidner has quarterbacked the team, the offense has scored 72 points.
Minnesota cruised behind a Leidner-led power running game to an easy win over WIU and did the same in the win over SJSU.
In both games, Leidner’s ability to execute the read-option and his powerful running style were catalysts to easy victories.
That’s not to say Nelson can’t successfully run the offense, but Leidner has been more than effective. And with the Gophers preparing for their Big Ten opener, it doesn’t make much sense to stymie his or the team’s momentum.
Leidner is also completing his passes at a 60 percent clip in his about one and a half games this season.
He converted multiple third-and-longs Saturday against SJSU, none prettier than his 37-yard completion to a well-covered KJ Maye up the seam.
“I feel really comfortable throwing the deep ball,” Leidner said at the postgame press conference. “I don’t hesitate at all.”
Meanwhile, Nelson has completed 51 percent of his passes in his about two and a half games this season, throwing two interceptions to just one touchdown.
Though both are effective runners, Leidner’s fearless approach seems to inspire his teammates a little more.
“I like going against Mitch [in practice],” linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said at the press conference. “He’s aggressive. He has that competitive nature. It makes all of us better as a team.”
Leidner, at 6 feet, 4 inches and 233 pounds, doesn’t hesitate to run between the tackles. He’ll often take on linebackers head up, and a lot of the time he wins those battles.
“We just kept pounding the ball at them,” Leidner said, “[and] just eventually wore them down.”
To the tune of a season-high 353 rushing yards.
This Saturday against Iowa, the real season starts, and flip-flopping quarterbacks becomes a much tougher decision.
That leaves Kill two choices.
“You’ve got to throw that ego aside, and you’ve got to do what’s best for your team,” Kill said.
And that is going with Leidner. Ya feel me?