Hawkeyes Gameday: Minnesota's Leidner comes to Kinnick in rhythm

Rick Brown

A familiar face

Iowa recruited quarterback Mitch Leidner out of Lakeville South High School in Lakeville, Minn. He decided to stay home and sign with Minnesota. The redshirt junior played a big hand in the Gophers’ 51-14 victory over Iowa last season at TCF Bank Stadium.

Leidner entered last season’s game with six touchdown passes on the year. He then threw four touchdown passes against Iowa, even though Minnesota entered the game last in in the Big Ten in passing offense.

After struggling with some injury issues earlier in the season, Leidner comes to Kinnick Stadium in rhythm. He’s thrown for at least 250 yards in three straight games (301 vs. Nebraska, 317 vs. Michigan, 281 vs. Ohio State), the first Gopher quarterback to do that since Mike Hohensee in 1982.

“Not only has he gotten healthier, he’s played better and better as the weeks have gone along,” Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said.

Leidner has thrown for 1,908 yards this season, with a 58.3 completion percentage. He’s thrown for 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Minnesota’s top receiver is speedy K.J. Maye, who has 49 catches for 524 yards and four touchdowns. Maye had 16 catches a season ago. He scored on a 9-yard jet sweep against Iowa in 2014.

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King’s ransom

You’ve got to figure that Leidner will be a little leery of throwing toward Iowa’s Desmond King on Saturday. The Hawkeyes’ junior right cornerback leads the nation with his eight interceptions, an accomplishment that has tied Iowa’s single-season record held by Nile Kinnick (1939) and Lou King (1981). King has more interceptions than the entire Minnesota team (seven). He also has more interceptions than Indiana and Nebraska. In fact, King has more interceptions than 51 FBS teams this season.

King’s eight picks are the most for a Big Ten player since Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard had 11 in 2002.

Speaking of interceptions …

Cornerback Jalen Myrick, who leads Minnesota with three interceptions, suffered a rib injury on the opening kickoff last week at Ohio State and won’t play Saturday.

The Gopher secondary, one of the best in the nation at the start of the season, has had its share of injury issues. Damarius Travis and Ace Rogers are out for the season. But with experienced secondary players like Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun on the field, the Gophers are a respectable sixth in the Big Ten in pass defense at 177.4 yards a game.

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Running in place

Minnesota has gone more and more to Leidner’s arm because the running game hasn’t been effective this season. The Gophers are 13th in the league in rushing offense (141.6 yards), trailing everyone but Purdue (135.1). The Boilermakers come to Kinnick Stadium in a week.

Iowa is third in the Big Ten and ninth nationally in rush defense, allowing 101.4 yards a game.

Leidner is Minnesota’s No. 3 rusher at 145 yards, trailing Rodney Smith (550) and Shannon Brooks (376).

Ground and pound

Don’t be surprised if Iowa has a ground-heavy attack against Minnesota. Especially if all four running backs – Akrum Wadley, LeShun Daniels, Jordan Canzeri and Derrick Mitchell, Jr. – are available. Canzeri has missed the last 11 quarters with a high ankle sprain suffered in the first quarter at Northwestern.

Iowa is second in the Big Ten in rushing at 205 yards a game. Minnesota is 10th in rush defense at 152.9 yards a game. And the Gophers are expected to be without starting defensive linemen Steve Richardson and Scott Epke due to injuries.