Leidner finds success after healing up

The redshirt junior has thrown for over 300 yards in his last two games played.

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner searches for someone to pass to on Nov. 15, 2014 against Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium.

Bridget Bennett, Daily File Photo

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner searches for someone to pass to on Nov. 15, 2014 against Ohio State at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Mike Hendrickson

Quarterback Mitch Leidner broke his career high in passing yards for the second week in a row on Saturday, throwing for more than 300 yards in the team’s games against Michigan and Nebraska.
The two career-high passing games for Leidner came after some tough days for the embattled quarterback, after he threw 131 yards in a two-game span against Purdue and Northwestern.
Leidner has been dealing with injuries this season and has worn a knee brace on his left leg during games for the entirety of the season.
Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski said Leidner looked the least healthy against Northwestern, when he completed less than half his passes, threw one interception and had 72 passing yards.
“He couldn’t do the things he wanted to do as well as he has,” Zebrowski said. “Health has been a big factor.”
Other parts of the offense around Leidner have been dealing with injuries as well this year.
The offensive line was dealing with their own set of injuries, and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Leidner has taken more hits this season as a result of the pressure opposing defenses have brought.
“You watch some of those hits, and you cringe,” Limegrover said. “Anytime you watch a quarterback when he does decide he’s going to stand and deliver that football, he’s exposed, and if somebody’s breaking free late, they have a shot at him. He’s a certified tough dude.”
Leidner didn’t play well in the next game after Northwestern, but the team beat Purdue 41-13. 
Since the Purdue game, the team has had better continuity on the offense, and Leidner has posted career-bests in back-to-back games.
“He’s making the throws. The kids are making great catches,” Zebrowski said. “The confidence level is high. He’s playing really confident against some really good teams. Is it anything specific? No, it’s just a kid working really hard starting to pay off.”
As Leidner has gotten healthier, a key part of his game has returned.
Leidner averaged 37.7 rushing yards a game last season but was only averaging 17.3 a game this year before playing Michigan.
Part of the reason the Gophers hung in the game against the Wolverines was being able to effectively use the read option, as Leidner was able to hold onto the ball and pick up big gains when defensive players were focused on stopping Minnesota’s running backs.
Leidner finished the game with 37 rushing yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run on a read-option play.
“Being as healthy as I’ve been, it’s a lot easier to make some athletic reads off that type of thing because they slow-play it,” Leidner said. “Even the ones that I kept in the game, the [defensive] end is supposed to not let me keep it. But with a good ball fake and a good job by the running back carrying on his fake, we were able to make some plays around him.”
Zebrowski said Leidner has been successful because of how he has dealt with the injuries and how it has made him better for when he is healthy.
“He’s never ever used [injuries] as a crutch,” Zebrowski said. “All that stuff helps him. He knows he can take hits.”