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Updated: September 25th, 2013 8:32am
Zulgad: Gophers mulling which running back will start at QB Saturday

Zulgad: Gophers mulling which running back will start at QB Saturday

by Judd Zulgad

There seems to be some confusion involving the Minnesota Gophers' quarterback situation.

Philip Nelson opened the season as the starter before suffering a hamstring injury in the third game against Western Illinois. This opened the door for Mitch Leidner to step in and has resulted in what some seem to feel is a quarterback controversy.

Take it from someone who covered the Vikings and has seen plenty of QB controversies, this one doesn't come close to qualifying.

Why? It's simple.

First of all, check out the statistics. Nelson and Leidner have a combined 33 completions in 62 attempts with one touchdown during the Gophers' 4-0 start. In that same span, they have a combined 79 rushing attempts for 519 yards and eight touchdowns.

At this point, they are quarterbacks in name only. Yes, they take the snap from center but to call them passers isn't the reality of what they are doing. They aren't running the offense as much as they are running in the offensive system.

This is far more of a high school read option approach than it is anything else.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill keeps saying that Nelson is his starter when he's healthy but has made it clear the sophomore isn't 100 percent yet.

This is the smart move by Kill because as long as he can get away with ignoring the passing game there is no reason not to continue starting Leidner. The redshirt freshman from Lakeville is listed at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds but might actually be heavier than that.

Last Saturday against San Jose State, Leidner looked like Earl Campbell as he carried defenders on his back en route to rushing for 151 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns.

Nelson, who had the redshirt taken off of him last year, rushed for 83 yards, 122 yards and 16 yards in the opening two-plus games before he was injured. Nelson goes 6-2, 215 pounds so he isn't small, but odds appear better that Leidner will be the one of these two who will stay healthy in this system.

This doesn't mean Nelson isn't going to see playing time when his hamstring has healed. Kill has made it clear that he likes to play two quarterbacks, and as long as both are runners first, second and third and passers only as a last resort that's probably a good plan.

He's going to need both and perhaps will have to work a third into the mix if Nelson or Leidner continue to take a weekly beating.

The most interesting thing will be what happens during the Big Ten season when the Gophers face a team that can stop the quarterbacks from running and force them to resort to the passing game.

Who gets the call if and when that happens?

It's at that point that we might have a controversy about whether Nelson or Leidner is more deserving of being on the field and actually playing what we consider to be the quarterback position.

Until that time, however, Leidner and Nelson are nothing more than running backs taking snaps from center and as long as the victories continue no one is going to get upset about that.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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