College football: Gophers' starting QB? Stay tuned
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- If quarterback Mitch Leidner were absolutely ready to start Saturday's game against Texas Christian, letting the Horned Frogs know would do Gophers coach Jerry Kill absolutely no good. Leid...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - If quarterback Mitch Leidner were absolutely ready to start Saturday’s game against Texas Christian, letting the Horned Frogs know would do Gophers coach Jerry Kill absolutely no good.
Leidner suffered a medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee in the fourth quarter of last weekend’s 35-24 victory over Middle Tennessee State. Kill said the sophomore would practice this week but stopped short of declaring him available Saturday in Fort Worth.
“He’s a tough son of a gun and that’s straight up,” Kill said at his weekly news conference. “I won’t know (if he can play) until the week goes. You’ve got to see his progression.”
Having your starting quarterback and team leader hurt, no matter how minor the injury, is not good - but it does present a few angles a team can play.
If redshirt freshman Chris Streveler has to play, for instance, it could alter the Gophers’ game plan. And Kill routinely rotated two quarterbacks - Leidner and Philip Nelson - throughout the Big Ten season and in the Gophers’ loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl last year.
Why not keep TCU (1-0) and coach Gary Patterson guessing?
Kill said he “certainly won’t wear (Leidner) out” in practice, adding, “We’ll give Chris Streveler a lot of reps.”
Gophers tight end Maxx Williams and left guard Zac Epping said Tuesday that they were confident Leidner, who has led Minnesota to victories over Eastern Illinois and Middle Tennessee State, will play in what is likely Minnesota’s toughest nonconference game since a loss at Southern California in 2011.
“I think Mitch is going to go, no doubt in my mind,” Williams said. “Mitch is one of the toughest guys I know by far.”
Epping said Leidner sent a text message Saturday night, saying: “Completely fine. I have no pain at all. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be back.”
“We had practice Sunday night, and he was practicing,” Epping said. “I think the media is making a big deal out of it. But he’s a tough kid and he’s ready to go.”
If Streveler starts, he would be the fifth quarterback in three seasons to start a game for the Gophers. It also would be the third time in four years that a freshman signal caller made his starting debut on the road.
In 2011, Max Shortell started in place of an injured MarQueis Gray at Michigan in the Big House. Ouch. In 2012, Nelson replaced Shortell to make his debut in Madison, Wis., near where he grew up. Talk about pressure.
Because Nelson and Shortell have transferred, Minnesota might have to rely on another freshman with almost no experience. Streveler has played only a few series at the ends of the past two games.
“He’s executed well,” Kill said. “He can really run. He’s got great speed, and he’s developing as a quarterback. But, I mean, it’s not like having a junior or senior. He’s still a freshman.”
TCU’s Patterson said his team will prepare the same way for both quarterbacks.
“Minnesota ran more options and stuff with the younger quarterback in the little bit that I watched, game-wise,” Patterson said. “But you can’t really put much stock into all that for the simple reason that in both cases, when he came in, the game was out of hand.”
The same guessing game played out last season with Leidner and Nelson. Leidner played in 10 games and started four; Nelson played in 12 games, starting nine.
Early scuttlebutt painted Streveler as more of an athlete than a quarterback at this point, meaning that Leidner - who has completed 14 of 28 passes for 211 yards with two touchdowns and an interception - would pass more. But with Leidner hurt, they suddenly are similar players. Just talk?
Fox Sports analyst and former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who will be part of the broadcast team for Saturday’s game, said there will be differences, regardless of the game plan.
“Mitch’s cadence is going to be far different than Chris’. The way they call plays in the huddle, and hearing the different nuances, that can sometimes make a difference,” Quinn said. “And the demeanor as a leader.
“When you watch (the Gophers), it doesn’t seem like their scheme is going to change from quarterback to quarterback, so at least from that standpoint those guys are both capable of doing the same things. But Mitch is a tremendous athlete for his size, being so big and athletic in that system. Chris is just a little smaller version.”
Quinn complimented Streveler for making some check-down calls at the line of scrimmage against Middle Tennessee State.
“That’s a redshirt freshman jumping in there, and a second-string guy doing that,” he said. “So that’s pretty solid.”
The Gophers can’t hide that they at least want Leidner to play. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, in fact, said he expects Leidner to start.
“My gut, the medical report, everything,” Limegrover said. “I mean, I’m a business-as-usual guy until told otherwise, and so we’re business as usual. We’re in there preparing right now for practice and expect to be at full force.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service