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Updated: September 29th, 2013 9:07pm
Zulgad: Leslie Frazier can learn lesson from Gophers coach Jerry Kill

Zulgad: Leslie Frazier can learn lesson from Gophers coach Jerry Kill

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Jerry Kill left many scratching their heads Saturday when he not only reinstated Philip Nelson as his starting quarterback, but failed to get Mitch Leidner into the game in the Minnesota Gophers' 23-7 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Leidner entered in relief of Nelson on Sept. 14 against Western Illinois after the latter suffered a strained right hamstring and led the Gophers to back-to-back victories.

That left Leidner as the obvious choice to start against the Hawkeyes. Only the Gophers coach got cute and for a second consecutive season an average Iowa club dominated Kill's team.

Hopefully, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier will learn from this and won't make a Kill-like blunder when his team plays host to Carolina after an off week.

The Vikings started veteran Matt Cassel at quarterback on Sunday in a 34-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London because Christian Ponder had a fractured rib.

Cassel didn't wow anyone, but what he did was look the part of a serviceable NFL quarterback, something that Ponder has failed to do too many times in his time as the Vikings' starter.

Cassel completed 16 of 25 passes for 248 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 123.4 passer rating.

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson caught seven passes for 124 yards with a long of 51, and Greg Jennings added three receptions for 92 yards with two touchdowns, including one that went for 70 yards.

Granted Pittsburgh isn't a good team - the Vikings are 1-3 and the Steelers are 0-4 - but Cassel can't be penalized for the fact he didn't beat the Denver Broncos.

What Cassel gave the Vikings was the threat of a quarterback who could complete passes on a consistent basis and also throw the ball down the field. This meant the Steelers had no choice but to show some respect for a Vikings passing game that far too often has been easy to ignore.

Running back Adrian Peterson benefited from the return of fullback Jerome Felton and the fact the Steelers couldn't concentrate solely on the run. Peterson finished with 140 yards on 23 rushing attempts with two touchdowns, including a 60-yarder.

During CBS' broadcast of the game, announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms said that in their production meeting with Frazier the coach said Ponder was still his starter when healthy.

After the game, Frazier told reporters that "Christian Ponder is our quarterback."

But, as Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press pointed out in his tweets from London, Frazier said it would be "premature" to declare Cassel his starting quarterback until he digested the win, looked at the film and began to assess matters during the bye week.

This is what we call buying yourself time.

Frazier had no incentive to declare Cassel his starter right after the win and, in fact, doesn't have to do it anytime soon. The Vikings could continue to point to Ponder's rib injury as a reason to keep him out for a few more weeks and not have to announce that he has been benched.

Keep in mind, the way Ponder's injury was described. Reports from London were that the fractured rib was on Ponder's left side and that contact could end up affecting his heart. Sounds pretty serious, right? Serious enough to keep him out for three or four games? Perhaps.

And what if Ponder feels good to go a week from this coming Sunday? One can only imagine the reaction from the crowd at the Metrodome upon seeing Ponder get the start. More importantly, try selling Ponder's return to a locker room that includes Jennings, Simpson, Peterson and an offense that just saw Cassel play the type of game it wanted so badly from Ponder.

The Vikings have two winnable games upcoming against the Panthers and New York Giants, meaning .500 isn't unrealistic.

Frazier and Co., will have plenty of time to decide how they want to approach who will start at quarterback after the bye, but one has to figure that he has little interest in opening himself up to the type of criticism (both from the public and his players) that Kill so richly deserves.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. 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.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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