College football: Leidner injury puts damper on Gophers’ win
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Gophers leading 28-0 at halftime Saturday against Middle Tennessee State, it seemed only a matter of time before starting quarterback Mitch Leidner would go to the sideline for goo...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - With the Gophers leading 28-0 at halftime Saturday against Middle Tennessee State, it seemed only a matter of time before starting quarterback Mitch Leidner would go to the sideline for good.
But when Leidner came out, it wasn’t because of the Gophers’ comfortable lead. He was replaced in the fourth quarter by backup Chris Streveler because of a left knee injury.
The health of Minnesota’s redshirt sophomore leader and a defense that was flat for most of the second half overshadowed a career-high 220-yard rushing performance by tailback David Cobb in a 35-24 victory in front of 47,223 fans at TCF Bank Stadium.
“He’s got to step up if that’s the situation,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said of Streveler possibly replacing Leidner this week. “I hope that’s not the case right now. That’s nothing against Chris. You don’t want anybody to get injured.”
The talk during the offseason was that the Gophers were putting everything on the shoulders of Leidner at quarterback because of the lack of experience behind him.
Kill had one of the youngest quarterback groups in the nation entering the season, including two redshirt freshmen (Streveler and Connor Rhoda) and two true freshmen (Dimonic Roden-McKinzy and walk-on Jacques Perra).
So Minnesota (2-0) likely needs Leidner back for its toughest game so far this season at Texas Christian next Saturday.
“I am concerned, and I don’t know anything,” Kill said. “They’re taking him to get an MRI, and that’s all I know right now.”
Leidner led the Gophers on three touchdown drives in the first half, which included a 27-yard scoring pass to tight end Maxx Williams.
But the Lakeville native ended the first half with an interception in the end zone, which frustrated Kill because some of the momentum was lost.
Leidner completed just 5 of 11 passes for 67 yards with a touchdown and interception in the game. He wasn’t effective throwing against Eastern Illinois in the opener, either, going 9 for 17 for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Streveler, a redshirt freshman, played briefly at the end of that game. He finished Saturday’s game for Leidner but wasn’t asked to do much more than hand the ball off to run out the clock.
“Certainly, when he went in today, we were just trying to get out of the game,” Kill said. “We’ll approach it and see what the situation is next week.”
Even with Leidner in the game, the Gophers, who rushed for 284 yards and three touchdowns, abandoned the passing game because they were able to dominate the line of scrimmage.
And Cobb ran the way he did while posting five 100-yard rushing games last year, the most for the Gophers since Laurence Maroney in 2005.
Cobb rushed for 111 yards in the first half and got stronger as the game went on. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder had a 48-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to extend Minnesota’s lead to 35-10.
But Middle Tennessee State (1-1) wouldn’t bow out without one last comeback attempt.
Reggie Whatley, who had 84 yards rushing, scored his second touchdown of the game at the end of the third quarter. Austin Grammer’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Henry came with less than a minute to play.
Grammer threw three interceptions, one of which was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Jalen Myrick in the first half. Linebacker Damien Wilson and cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun also had interceptions.
Myrick got extended playing time with other defensive backs wearing down, including starting cornerback Eric Murray. The defense let up in the second half for the second straight game.
The Gophers have forced six turnovers in the first two games, but they also allowed 20 fourth-quarter points against Eastern Illinois and 24 second-half points in Saturday’s game, in which Minnesota was outscored 17-7 in the third quarter.
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