College football: Gophers hit brick wall
By Andy GrederSt. Paul Pioneer Press EVANSTON, Ill. -- Minnesota's offense had labored for 130 total yards, quarterback Mitch Leidner's fumble was returned for a Northwestern touchdown, and the Gophers trailed 27-0 early in the fourth quarter on ...
By Andy Greder
St. Paul Pioneer Press
EVANSTON, Ill. - Minnesota’s offense had labored for 130 total yards, quarterback Mitch Leidner’s fumble was returned for a Northwestern touchdown, and the Gophers trailed 27-0 early in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Those were the dire circumstances when Minnesota coach Jerry Kill turned to freshman quarterback Demry Croft to make his debut.
The Gophers were eventually shut out for the first time in four years, 27-0, by No. 16 Northwestern in the Big Ten opener at Ryan Field.
Croft’s not-any-better cameo across four drives somewhat distracted from an overall unsightly offensive showing against a stingy Northwestern defense.
Afterward, Kill wouldn’t name Leidner nor Croft the starter for next Saturday’s game against Purdue.
“I can’t make judgments, and I wouldn’t do that to anybody - make decisions in 10 minutes,” Kill said moments after the game. “We’ve got a lot more problems than just the quarterback.”
Northwestern (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) notched its first shutout of Minnesota since 1959. The Gophers (3-2, 0-1) mustered 173 total yards, which was the first time they’ve been held under 200 yards in a span of 19 games since Nov. 2013.
“It hurts,” Kill said. “We got our butt kicked.”
Croft scrambled for 11 yards on his first play, but finished 5 for 11 passing for 27 yards and six carries for 4 yards. He was sacked three times and nearly threw two interceptions.
“He’s got a good arm,” said Gophers senior receiver KJ Maye. “He’s just made some freshman mistakes, taking sacks on third down and stuff like that.”
In three-plus quarters, Leidner went 10 for 21 for 72 yards, with an interception and the lost fumble on his last play. A week after throwing for a career-high 264 yards in a comeback win over Ohio University, Leidner didn’t speak to the media after Saturday’s game.
The senior Maye called Leidner, a junior, “like a little brother.”
“Just stay in his ear and keep him lifted up and keep him motivated,” Maye said.
Northwestern has made it hard on more than just Minnesota and its quarterbacks. The Wildcats have allowed seven points per game this season, which is the best scoring defense in the nation.
Across the second and third quarters, the Gophers’ offense totaled only 49 yards and two first downs. Their longest play - a 23-yard connection from Leidner to Maye in the third quarter - was seven yards longer than anything else they did all afternoon.
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