QB Mitch Leidner runs his way to record-setting first career start
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MINNEAPOLIS -- As a quarterback for Lakeville South high school, Mitch Leidner had the reputation of a pass-heavy signal caller, rarely relying on his feet to fuel the offense.
That identity has clearly transformed since.
Thrust into a starting role with Philip Nelson sidelined with a hamstring injury, Leidner's first career start in the Minnesota Gophers' aggressive 43-24 victory against San Jose State on Saturday was a memorable one.
And it was thanks to his feet, not his arm.
Leidner tied a program record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, rumbling into the endzone four times.
With the run game once again almost the sole focus of the "U" offense, the 6-foot-4, 233-pound quarterback willingly held on to the ball when he given the option. Shouldering 24 carries, Leidner ran for 151 yards to become only the fifth Gophers quarterback to cross the 150-yard threshold in a game.
"I always thought I was going to be a passer, but it's fun to run the ball, that's for sure," Leidner said sheepishly, recalling his change in outlook since high school.
The Gophers' lack of a passing attack continued, with Leidner completing only five of his 12 throws for a season-low 71 yards. But Minnesota turned out an eventual sound dismantling of San Jose State thanks in large part to ground game that racked up 353 yards.
Watching his offensive line put together its best fundamental game of the season, Leidner was giving openings to take off because of the effectiveness of tailbacks David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr.
Cobb, a junior who has finally started producing on the potential the "U" coaching staff has preached since he arrived, ran 25 times for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Williams shifted more into a backup role, but still chipped in 60 yards.
Once the Gophers defense found a way to contain San Jose State star quarterback David Fales in the second half, they relied on Leidner and the surging offense to 23 unanswered points and a 43-17 fourth quarter lead.
"It worked out because our tailbacks carried the ball so well," Kill said. "They sat on our quarterback more than in previous ones and made us use our running backs more.
Kill insisted he did not consider starting Nelson, who was labeled at "80 percent" in his recovery from a right hamstring injury suffered last week. But Kill did allow that Nelson was available to take limited snaps if Leidner had to come off temporarily in the middle of the season, although Nelson would not have been given the go-ahead to run.