Early indications point to Mitch Leidner getting start against Iowa
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Judging by the swarm of media members hovering around Minnesota Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner on Tuesday, the redshirt freshman is getting his first taste of the life as a Big Ten starter, even if it may only be temporary.
The interim label hasn't been taken off Leidner yet, but he could be holding on to the top role for at least another week.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill is once again staying away from making definitive statements about who his starting quarterback will be in Saturday's key Big Ten opener against border rival Iowa.
But early indications point to Leidner getting the nod for the second straight week.
Sophomore Philip Nelson is still recovering from a hamstring strain suffered in the first half of the Gophers' Week 3 victory against Western Illinois. Though Nelson was available for emergency relief last week, Kill's staff made sure to play it safe with the 10-game starter by keeping him sidelined.
Leidner made the situation interesting Saturday when he ran for 151 yards and tied a program record with four rushing touchdowns in his first collegiate start in a 43-24 defeat of San Jose State, walking away with Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Now the Gophers find themselves with two capable and game-proven options under center, but must decide which one to keep situated as their starter.
And it's a good predicament to have for a team that has been trying to create a semblance of depth in the last three seasons.
Kill has stayed with the same answer to questions about his starter, repeating that Nelson remains atop the depth chart, though that comes with a notable caveat.
"He's going to need to be 100 percent for us to give him the green light, so we certainly will (start him) if he's ready to go," Kill said.
Whether or not Nelson is back to 100 percent will be found out quickly in practice in the next three days. Kill noted he saw Nelson at the practice facility Tuesday morning and he "seems to be getting along pretty good." In a conversation Sunday, Kill put Nelson's status at "80 percent."
But as Kill's coaching staff has proven numerous times in other cases, if Nelson isn't back practicing at "full-tilt" on Tuesday and Wednesday the Gophers are likely not to risk potentially reaggravating the injury prematurely.
The Gophers have the luxury of options, especially with the level-headed and high quality performance Leidner put on last week. If by Wednesday there is any lingering question about the status of Nelson's hamstring, Leidner should continue to be projected as the current starter.
The argument can be made that Leidner should remain No. 1, even if Nelson is healthy and ready to go by the weekend.
The Gophers are doing what they can to downplay any talk of debate between Nelson and Leidner. However, another strong start by Leidner, with the Gophers bidding for their first 5-0 start in nine years, would keep the intrigue level at quarterback at a high level.