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Do Minnesota Gophers Need a Change at Quarterback?

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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