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Minnesota Could Have a Quarterback Controversy

After last Saturday’s devastating 27-0 beat down at the hands of No. 13 Northwestern, the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-2, 0-1) are starting off the week with a shakeup at the quarterback position as the team gets ready for Saturday’s game against Purdue.

Head coach Jerry Kill told the local media on Sunday that redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Leidner was still his starter, but he was going to play freshman Demry Croft, who replaced ineffective Leidner in the fourth quarter.  

Of course, you’re probably wondering if there’s a quarterback controversy in Minneapolis? Kill played down any notion that there was a quarterback controversy.

“Mitch is not the reason we’re struggling so much,” Kill told the Star-Tribune.com “… There’s no controversy or any of that stuff. It’s just, we didn’t play very good.” 

That the Gophers didn’t play very well against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense is a gross understatement. Minnesota’s offense couldn’t do much of anything against a Northwestern defense that not only stopped them, but intimidated them.  

The Wildcats held the Gophers to just 130 yards of total offense. For most of the game, the Northwestern defense was in the Minnesota backfield tackling the quarterback or the ball carrier. The Gophers were held to 74 yards rushing and averaged just 2.2 yards per carry.  Northwestern also destroyed the Minnesota passing game, holding the Gophers to 99 yards with three sacks. Minnesota quarterbacks averaged just 3.1 yards per play in the air.

Leidner was 10-of-21 for 72 yards and an interception. While Croft showed that he could run the football, he couldn’t lead the Gophers to a score. He completed 5-of-11 passes for just 27 yards and was sacked three times.

Kill said he wanted to get Croft and third string redshirt freshman quarterback Jacques Perra some experience under center during the pre-Big Ten season, but the games were so close that he had to stick with Leidner.

The dilemma for Kill this week is to figure out whether Leidner or Croft gives them best chance to win as the head for West Lafayette for their game against a Boilermakers squad that came close to pulling off a miraculous comeback against No. 4 Michigan State.

On one hand, Leidner, one of the Gophers’ team captains, has had success as a starting quarterback and has led his teams to late wins over Colorado State and Ohio. Benching him would only wreck his confidence as a starter. Somehow, Kill has to figure out a way to put Leidner back on that horse and let him lead this team.

But Croft needs some game experience, not necessarily at the expense of the starter. What little we saw of the 6-4 freshman is that he can run and has a decent arm.  What Croft can do with his legs logically leads to the possibility that the Gophers may use him as a change of pace player on run-pass option plays.

The real issue for Kill is whether or not he can mend his team’s wounded psyche.  Perhaps he could follow Penn State’s James Franklin lead and just bury the tape of the game.  Even better is that Kill could rely on his team leaders to keep their teammates’ heads up after a tough loss.

“I’ve been a little frustrated about the way we’ve been going on, but I’m a senior on the team, and I feel like people are going to follow my lead,” Senior wide receiver K.J. Maye said after last Saturday’s game, per Gopher Sports.

“I’m going to stay positive and have faith in our team. I know what we can do; I see what we do day in and day out, out at practice. We just have to execute in games, that’s the biggest thing.”

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