MINNEAPOLIS — Mitch Leidner tried to hurry to the huddle when he noticed Minnesota’s athletic trainers heading his way Saturday at Ohio State.
Leidner was stopped by an official and told he needed to come out of the game. But he missed just one play in the 28-14 loss to the then-top-ranked Buckeyes.
The Gophers have become used to seeing Leidner bounce back, both from big hits and a slow start this season.
"He’s feeling good right now," assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "There’s kind of a hidden component. You see it with quarterbacks. When a guy is confident, he’s in the ‘zone,’ it isn’t just about when he’s throwing the football but how he’s controlling the huddle and those types of things."
After yet another game of being battered behind an injury-riddled offensive line, Leidner woke up Sunday feeling better than he expected.
"It wasn’t very bad after some of the hits I took there," Leidner said Tuesday. "But some of the games this season, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, and that’s why I can’t emphasize the recovery enough."
The key moment at Ohio State came when Leidner took a hit under his chin from linebacker Joshua Perry as he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Perry was initially penalized for targeting, but officials reversed the call after a review. The touchdown stood.
Leidner’s toughness was never in question. But now his confidence has caught up.
Leidner completed 27 of 44 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State after back-to-back weeks of passing for more than 300 yards. Benched briefly during a particularly tough game at Northwestern earlier this year, Leidner is once again in command of the offense, benefiting from a quick passing attack that has gradually grown to be an effective strategy for the Gophers.
"It’s just drilling the feet, the footwork all practice, knowing you’re going to get the ball out on time because it’s got to be on time or else they have a better chance to drive on it and make interceptions and that sort of thing," Leidner said. "It’s been a process, because we really started getting into some of the stuff during fall camp and to be able to be building off it now has helped us a lot."
Leidner threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter at Ohio State, as Minnesota had 204 of its 314 yards in the final 15 minutes.
The 300-yard games against Nebraska and Michigan were the first of Leidner’s career, which has included 31 games and 25 starts. His 27 completions were at Ohio State were a career high, and the 44 attempts were one short of his career high and the most he’s had against a conference opponent.
"At the end of the year, you want to get better each week," head coach Tracy Claeys said. "Mitch is truly one of them. Not only has he gotten healthier, he’s played better and better as the weeks have gone along."