Gophers have yet to prove strong start was for real
OCT 11, 2013 8:40a ET
1. The 4-0 start was deceiving.
For the second straight year, the Gophers were a perfect 4-0 through four nonconference games. Unlike last season, however, Minnesota's wins against out-of-conference foes were convincing. In 2012, the Gophers needed three overtimes to sneak by UNLV. In 2013, Minnesota beat the likes of New Mexico State and San Jose State by double-digits. So after what was a seemingly different 4-0 than last year, the Gophers entered Big Ten play riding high -- only to be knocked down a few pegs in a one-sided loss to Iowa. One week later, the Gophers were eventually routed by Michigan. So while the four consecutive wins to open the season looked good on paper, it really didn't teach us anything about just how good Minnesota is. After the Gophers opened with a 4-0 record last season, they won just two more games the rest of the way. That might be a tough task to match last year's six wins with a tough Big Ten schedule still ahead. Lesson learned: don't put too much stock into an impressive nonconference record.
2. Minnesota's passing game is non-existent.
There's no way to sugar coat it: the Gophers' passing offense has been bad. Minnesota ranks dead last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (116.8) and has just three passing touchdowns through six games, also the fewest in the conference. Minnesota's quarterbacks have completed just 55.1 percent of their passes for a mere 701 total yards. While the Gophers' offense has tried to establish an identity as a power running team, they still need to assemble some sort of passing attack to have a balanced offense. Switching quarterbacks on a weekly basis hasn't helped. Sophomore Philip Nelson began the year as the starter but was injured and replaced by redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner. Then the Gophers started Nelson again versus Iowa and flipped back to Leidner for the road game at Michigan this past weekend. Neither quarterback has had much success through the air, but a lack of stability at the most important position in football certainly has not helped Minnesota's offense. The Gophers could also use a playmaker at wide receiver. Derrick Engel is the only wide receiver with more than six catches so far this year.
3. With that said, it appears Leidner may be the quarterback moving forward.
The Gophers have had a bit of a quarterback controversy on their hands this year as the coaching staff has switched up the starters. In Leidner's first career start against San Jose State, he rushed for four touchdowns to lift the Gophers to a win. That tied a school record for the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a game. Even though Leidner only threw for 71 yards in that game, he and Minnesota were able to move the ball easily against San Jose State. The same was true for the first half of the Gophers' game against Michigan. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Leidner used a combination of his legs and arm to march Minnesota down the field for a first-half touchdown. He rushed for 66 yards in the loss and managed 145 passing yards, the most by either quarterback this season. When Nelson did play against Iowa, he looked hesitant to run. He insisted, though, that it had nothing to do with the hamstring injury that kept him out of the San Jose State game. With a bye this week, both quarterbacks will have a chance to get added reps in practice with the hopes of finding a rhythm on offense. But when the Gophers take the field against Northwestern next Saturday, Leidner will likely give them the best chance to win.
4. Minnesota's secondary has regressed.
The Gophers had one of the better pass defenses in the Big Ten last year. One season later, that hasn't been the case. Of course, it hasn't helped that cornerback Derrick Wells has been dinged up and fellow cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun is out for the year with a torn ACL. Those injuries have forced some inexperienced players to step in, and the results have been subpar. Minnesota is allowing 255.5 yards per game through the air, third-worst among Big Ten defenses. That’s nearly a 70-yard difference from what the Gophers gave up just a year ago. But that secondary was senior-laden, with Troy Stoudermire and Michael Carter leading the way. Minnesota's lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks hasn't done the secondary any favors; the Gophers have seven sacks through six games. While Minnesota's rushing defense has been a middle-of-the-road unit (128.3 yards per game allowed), the secondary has had its hands full through the first six games.
5. Jerry Kill's health has become a bigger story than wins and losses.
Kill, who suffers from epilepsy, has had two seizures already this season. The first came at halftime on the sideline during the Gophers' game against Western Illinois; he missed the second half of the game as he was taken to a local hostpial. The second came last weekend and prevented Kill from joining the team in Ann Arbor for its game against Michigan. As a result of his latest seizure -- which was his fifth gameday seizure since taking over in 2011 -- Kill has decided to take an indefinite leave of absence to focus on treating his epilepsy and working with doctors to find the right balance of medication. It remains to be seen when Kill will return to the sideline, but the typically stubborn coach has put his own health ahead of football -- and rightfully so -- by taking time during the season to do what's needed to tackle his epilepsy. While some have argued that Kill should step down as a result of his health concerns, the university continues to stand by its head coach.
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