B1G 40: What should be expected from Gophers at quarterback?

B1G 40: What should be expected from Gophers at quarterback?
June 21, 2014, 10:15 am
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Vinnie Duber

As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.

What should be expected from Gophers at quarterback?

As with last season, Jerry Kill and Minnesota are expected to place a large emphasis on the running game. Last year, the Gophers ranked seventh in the country in run play percentage, opting to try to pick up yards on the ground 65.89 percent of the time. (The next closest Big Ten team was Wisconsin at 59.53 percent.) But this year, things could be even runnier.

In 2013, the Gophers averaged just under 200 rush yards a game and were one of the five best rushing teams in the Big Ten, which is saying something considering they were in close company with teams that boasted top backs Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and Tevin Coleman (Indiana). Minnesota had its own rushing weapon in David Cobb, who amassed 1,202 yards on the ground, including going over 100 yards in six of the final nine games of the season.

But Minnesota’s quarterbacks were part of that rushing attack, as well, and Kill & Co. are hoping to expand on that this season.

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Remember that Kill was the head coach at Northern Illinois when Chandler Harnish established himself as a dual-threat QB. Kill also prepped Jordan Lynch for his two-year starting stint with the Huskies.

It’s likely that’s the direction things are headed in the Twin Cities, too, enough so that Philip Nelson decided to transfer during the offseason. Nelson was the Gophers’ No. 1 quarterback for much of last season, but he left the school with hopes of finding a more passing-friendly program. (He found it in Rutgers, only to be dismissed shortly thereafter due to a fairly gruesome legal situation.)

That leaves Mitch Leidner, who spent the majority of last year as the No. 2 QB behind Nelson but also started four games, as the guy in this, his sophomore season. Leidner was the more rush-oriented of the two quarterbacks a season ago, so much so that only twice did he have more passing attempts than rushing attempts in a game. Depending on which stat you prefer from your quarterback, his best game came either against San Jose State (21 carries, 154 yards, four rushing touchdowns) or in the bowl game against Syracuse (205 passing yards and a pair of passing touchdowns).

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That comparison is significant because it shows Leidner can do it all. Nelson was not as effective a runner, and his passing, while better, never really looked all that great either last season (nine touchdonws, six interceptions). If Leidner can run like he did against San Jose State and pass like he did against Syracuse, the Gophers could really have something cooking.

A true dual-threat QB would be incredibly effective for an offense that, as mentioned, had one of the better run games in the conference but also had the statistically worst pass game.

Still, it’s important to remember that Cobb returns and that the focus will likely remain on handing the ball to the running backs. That was the bread and butter last season when Minnesota won eight games for the first time since 2003. No need to fix what ain’t broke.