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Minnesota's Passing Offense and QB Mitch Leidner Improving at a Critical Time

Jerry Kill

Jerry Kill

It goes without saying that Minnesota’s offense starts with running the football. David Cobb has already rushed for 1,200 yards this season and leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns. The Minnesota rushing attack has carried the Gophers to a 7-2 record heading into mid-November. It has been needed because the Minnesota passing game has struggled to take flight this season. The Big Ten’s worst passing offense has averaged just 140.2 yards per game this season, but against Iowa it appeared the Gophers finally found some rhythm throwing the football.

After a couple of struggles throwing the football against Purdue and Illinois, Minnesota was smart and accurate with the football against Iowa. Though still relying on the performance of the running game, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner completed 10 of his 13 pass attempts against the Hawkeyes for 138 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Leidner had thrown for six touchdowns all season entering the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale.

In the second quarter, Leidner connected with Donovahn Jones for a 44-yard touchdown strike to break a 7-7 tie. Midway through the quarter, Leidner threw the first of two red zone touchdown passes before halftime and Minnesota was on its way to a rout of visiting Iowa. This was not just Minnesota taking advantage of a poor pass defense either. The Hawkeyes entered the week ranked second in the Big Ten against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging just over 50 percent in completion percentage this season. Leidner completed 76.9 percent of his attempts, by far his most accurate performance this season.

If nothing else, Minnesota gained some confidence passing the football at just the right time. The final few games for Minnesota are still considered an uphill battle for a Minnesota team that is continuing to develop and mature. Next week Minnesota will host Ohio State, with the Buckeyes coming off a big road win at Michigan State. Ohio State is around the middle of the pack in the Big Ten against the pass. So is Nebraska, also still to come on Minnesota’s schedule. Wisconsin, Minnesota’s final opponent this season, Wisconsin, leads the Big Ten against the pass.

Minnesota is going to need to have a balanced attack in order to make a run in these final three games. If the Gophers can get the running game on track early and often, it will open things up for the passing game as well. With what Minnesota has to work with, that is not a terrible way to go. Mitch Leidner may not be a guy who will throw for 250 or 300 yards, but if he can be put in a situation to make some safe throws, Minnesota’s offense should have enough to make things a little more interesting these next few weeks.

This is Minnesota’s time to prove they belong in the Big Ten race. A superior TCU team humbled the Gophers earlier in the season, but Minnesota has matured a bit since that early season loss. Now lets see if the passing game has found its groove at the right time or if it was just a blip on the radar against Iowa.

- by Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)