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Do Minnesota Gophers Need a Change at Quarterback?

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Mitch Leidner, Minnesota Golden Gophers

After a 14-7 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes one thing is clear — what is going on offensively for the Gophers just won’t cut it.

Head coach Tracy Claeys put it rather bluntly following the game.

“We played well enough defensively to win the game; offensively, we didn’t,” Claeys said. “In this conference, you have to have both sides playing well together.”

Minnesota had just 268 yards of total offense on the day, while also mustering up just 13 first downs. That simply can’t happen if you want to win football games. Neither can a team afford to have a quarterback go 13 of 33 for 166 yards and two interceptions.

Those final stats don’t tell the whole story either, as Leidner failed to complete a pass until right before halftime. Leidner had completed only nine of 24 passes for 91 yards before a crazy effort on the final drive of the game too.

As a result of that horrific offensive performance, Floyd of Rosedale will return to Iowa City with the Hawkeyes. It also means Minnesota’s trophy case will remain barren until it runs in to Nebraska and Wisconsin later on this season.

Saturday’s result felt like a turning point, and not the good kind the Gophers were hoping for this offseason. Instead, it felt like a moment for the coaching staff to start to rethink what is going on offensively.

With Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith and Kobe McCrary in the backfield there is enough there to help you win games. But, the running game can’t win games alone and Leidner has yet to prove he can consistently win you games with his arm.

That’s a problem as Leidner enters his final month-plus of college football. Even with a change of coordinators and coaches on the offensive side of the football, things look and feel the same as they always have with Leidner behind center — stagnant.

It also means it is time for some serious soul-searching for the Gophers offensive coaching staff. That’s especially true because it seems as if the parts are there to be successful in the passing game.

Wide receivers Drew Wolitarsky and Rashad Still are quality pass catchers, but like Leidner, lack consistency.

Still helped to extend the final effort for the Gophers offense on Saturday. He made two great catches to secure back-to-back first downs on Minnesota’s final offensive drive, but Leidner couldn’t continue to stay hot.

Instead, a drive that started at the Gophers own 12-yard line stalled out at Iowa’s 18-yard line thanks to four straight incomplete throws from Leidner to his receivers. That can’t happen when the game is on the line and you are a senior quarterback.

Clearly something just isn’t clicking, because there were times on the final drive and throughout the game where one could see why NFL scouts were intrigued by him in the offseason. That potential has been there all along, but as he plays his final season in a Gophers uniform nothing has really changed.

With the coaching staff needing to answer some very serious questions about its offense, perhaps the most important question they have to ask themselves is this one — Is Mitch Leidner really our best option to win big games?

He may be good enough to get you through matchups with Illinois or Purdue, but against high-powered defenses like Nebraska and Wisconsin? That’s hardly going to be the case.

The coaching staff also sent an intriguing message after the game, barring Leidner from speaking to the media in post-game press availability. Clearly the program doesn’t want the questions over his status to snowball based on anything he would have to say at all.

But, that is the least of the Gophers problems, because most coaching staffs would’ve found a way to look to spark their offense with some changes.

Minnesota’s biggest problem seems to be that it doesn’t have an option to spark the offense, so Leidner continues to be the option they are stuck with. That’s partly on coaching, as well as on how it has recruited the position.

Hope does spring eternal with the arrival of Seth Green on the University of Minnesota campus this past January. However, he doesn’t appear on the depth chart and appears likely that the staff really wants to skate by with a redshirt year for him.

But, at this point is there really much to lose? Perhaps, Green could kick-start the offense and keep Minnesota in the race for a Big Ten West division title. Perhaps Green struggles a bit, but learns from the experience.

He’s clearly the hope for the future, and maybe it is time for the future to be right now.

No matter what the choice is, the coaching staff has to find the answers it is looking for. Otherwise a Big Ten West division title is going to quickly and painfully slip between their fingers.

It would be a shame to waste a quality defensive effort due to stubbornness on offense. It would also be a shame to see Claeys’ stubbornness cost him an opportunity to really be the long-term option as the head coach.

With a $500,000 buyout on the table for new athletic director Mark Coyle, play like what happened against Iowa certainly has to give the new AD reason for concern about the viability of this program going forward.

The foundation is there, and many wonder when this group will take that final step to be a real contender. It may only come with the willingness to make a bold move at quarterback.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Annexstad shows promise in Gophers debut

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Plenty of people were curious about the Minnesota Gophers starting quarterback coming in to the season opener. After all, it’s not often that a true freshman walk-on gets the starting nod. 

But, the attention and pressure of the first college game was not too much to handle for Gophers quarterback Zack Annextad. After a few shaky moments early on, Annexstad looked like he belonged on the field in the Gophers 48-10 victory over New Mexico State. 

Annexstad wasn’t super accurate, completing just 48 percent of his passes. But, he more than made up for it with a blistering 220 yards and two touchdowns. Additionally, he kept the Aggies from picking him off all game long. 

Perhaps the best bit of news is that it appears the Gophers may have more than one good target for Annexstad to work with. Veteran wide receiver Tyler Johnson was on point, catching five passes for 100 yards and both of the touchdown throws.

Rashod Bateman caught five passes and Chris Autman-Bell had four to his name as well. 

Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Seth Green looked dangerous as an all-around player. He touched the ball in the backfield twice and scored on both of those touches, giving future opponents plenty to think about when it comes to game-planning for the Gophers.

Minnesota also showed off an impressive run game after a rocky start on the ground. Star running back Rodney Smith racked up 153 yards and the Gophers ran for 295 yards and three touchdowns as a team. 

Add in a defense that allowed just 38 yards on the ground and only 10 points and there is a recipe for success going forward. 

Of course, one has to take in to consideration the caliber of opponent, but for a team with a lot of question marks on offense, there’s little doubt this was a confidence builder. 

While there will be plenty of improvement needed in order for Minnesota to be competitive come Big Ten play, this offense looks and feels different than it did a year ago. 

As far as debuts go, there certainly was promise shown from Annexstad and that’s really all you can ask for from a freshman making his first start. 

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Gophers, Huskers could have games altered by Oregon wildfires

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Mother Nature could wreak havoc on college football this upcoming weekend, but the majority of the news has been focused on an impending hurricane barring down on Florida.

A look out West and things are just as dangerous and deadly, as wildfires are raging in California, Oregon and Washington. That could present a big problem for the Minnesota Gophers game on Saturday night with the Oregon State Beavers and Nebraska’s visit to the Oregon Ducks.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune cites sources within the Pac-12 saying that the game time may be moved or the game moved all together.

While the fire isn’t the problem, it is the air quality in the Eugene area that is. Oregon has already had to move practice closer to the Pacific Coast and the air in Eugene appears to be a major issue.

The smoke in Eugene, where an air protection agency listed the air quality as “hazardous,” prompted Oregon to move its Tuesday practice to Florence, near the Pacific coast.

The good news is that the smoke cleared enough a day later for the Ducks to return to practice in Eugene. But, there is reason to believe the game could still be an issue as smoke is expected to return.

The smoke is supposed to return at some point. But we just don’t know when. … There are too many variables for us to look that far ahead of time.”

Yes, that means we won’t know about the status of Nebraska-Oregon until Saturday itself.

Meanwhile, things don’t look as precarious for the Gophers matchup, but that doesn’t mean change would be out of the question.

“Based upon the information provided by the air protection agency and the expert health and safety advice of the respective University medical professionals, a decision will be made on whether or not to adjust game times and/or dates with the safety of student-athletes and fans as a priority,” Andrew Walker, the Pac-12’s vice president of public affairs, wrote in an e-mail to the (Portland) Oregonian.

Once again, it appears things are going to be in a wait-and-see mode in Corvallis as well.

It hasn’t affected Minnesota all that much, as they are more worried about playing at game that would kick at 9pm in Minneapolis if it were being played at home.

Head coach P.J. Fleck has talked this week about making sure players are staying up later as the week goes on to adjust their bodies. That’s especially important as practices are taking place first thing in the morning this season.

Either way, both of these programs are dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now and that may be the biggest hurdle to get over when prepping for Week 2.

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Fleck smart to let QB battle play out in actual game action

P.J. Fleck continues to row the boat at his own pace, deciding on not one, but two starting quarterbacks for the season opener against Buffalo.

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What is better than one starting quarterback? Two starting quarterbacks.

At least that is the theory Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is going to test out for his first season at at the helm of the Gophers.

It’s a bold strategy (insert meme here), and one that hasn’t exactly worked out well for just about anyone in the past you say? Heck, even with two potential NFL draft picks it didn’t work out well for a program like Ohio State and a coach like Urban Meyer back in 2015.

The history of bad news coming with dueling starting quarterbacks heading in to the season hasn’t stopped Fleck from doing just that though.

It shouldn’t be surprising however. After all, P.J. Fleck is his own man, and many of the decisions he makes on and off the field demonstrate just that.

But, on Thursday Fleck made a pretty bold decision at quarterback — he’ll go with both Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda as starters entering the season.

To be fair, the two quarterbacks haven’t exactly separated much in fall camp.

To the outsider that could be bad news, but according to the head coach himself, it was due to both earning the opportunity on the field.

“Every time I think I see one nudging the other out, the other one closed the gap and passed him.” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “And they’ve continued to do that. That tells me this late in training camp that both of ’em deserve to play.”

Fleck also brought up a very good point in his talk to the media — neither have a wealth of game experience to draw on and that makes separating based on practice alone a bit of a crapshoot.

“If I was to tell you that I knew exactly how those quarterbacks are going to play in a game, that’s a guess,” Fleck noted, while also pointing out just how little game experience exists.

There is a grand total of 17 passing attempts in a game between the two of them and 15 of them belong to fifth-year senior Rhoda. He went seven of 15 for 82 yards and a touchdown.

Fleck is also thinking ahead with this decision, because we all know every team in America is just one big hit away from having to go to the backup quarterback. Why not get whomever that will ultimately be some game experience while sorting things out?

It was part of Fleck’s reasoning to the media on Thursday as well.

“If we think we can go through the Big Ten and not need two quarterbacks at some point, I think we’re crazy to think that,” he said. “We’re gonna need ’em.”

With a new energy and style around the Gophers program, it seems almost fitting that Fleck would buck most of recent history — whatever he wanted to claim about two-quarterback systems working.

For every Alabama in the past few years, there is an Ohio State or Wisconsin or others to show Fleck the dangers of a prolonged QB battle.

The hope has to be that the separation that didn’t happen in spring or fall camp does happen once the games go live. Otherwise this could be one interesting first season in Minneapolis.

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WATCH: Gophers describe personality of 2017 team

P.J. Fleck says Rodney Smith is the personality of the 2017 Minnesota Gophers. So, what exactly is Smith’s personality and why is a fit for the Gophers?

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At Big Ten media days on Tuesday, Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck opened up the day by announcing that the personality of this team was that of running back Rodney Smith.

However, Fleck left that statement wide open to interpretation. What is that personality and why is it Rodney Smith? I mean, he is one of the best returning running backs in the Big Ten, so having him be the focal point of the team on the field is just smart.

So, curious as to why Smith was the one singled out by Fleck at the podium during his initial press conference, we went to his teammates to find the answer. They all seemed to have one common answer — happy.

Well that and plenty more..Check out the answers from Smith himself and his teammates. All that

and more from the highlights of Day 2 at Big Ten media days.

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