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Minnesota Golden Gopher Football: Mitch Leidner, the It Factor, and What Improvement Looks Like in 2014

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, in a interview written by THE Tom Dienhart, Gophers Offensive Coordinator Matt Limegrover discussed his quarterback situation as we creep closer and closer to the start of the season.  For the first time in what seems like forever (When did Adam Weber graduate again?), that situation is settled; Mitch Leidner will be operating this unit as his own.

So, Coach Limegrover, give me some workable material, please:

"(Nelson and Leidner) each had their group of friends, neither wanted to step out and be that guy you need at QB … and they were friends. Neither took that step forward to be that guy you need as a leader at quarterback. Once Philip decided to leave, Coach Kill got up at a team meeting and said "here is your guy (Leidner). If he tells you to do something, you do it."

First things first, we might have just had a little insight into last year and why there was a quarterback controversy that didn't end until Philip Nelson transferred out of school. Apparently, Leidner and Nelson were so deferential to each other that neither of them took the job from the other.  That's very noble of both of them; and they both probably thought they were displaying some kind of "what ever is best for the team" attitude.

Unfortunately, deference is not a quality most teams look for in their quarterback.  It's a position where what's best for the team is a player who will stop at nothing to make the job his own.  That type of attitude lends itself to decisive decision making, which can at least give the impression of confidence, which is something we would all like to see more of in the Gophers passing game.

I'll be honest, I'm not thrilled to find out that Leidner did not actively try to steal the job from Nelson last season.  I understand that Mitch was a redshirt freshman, i.e. not the most empowered status on the team.  But still, how is deferential supposed to make us feel?  Give us some hope, Coach.

"It really has been fun to watch Mitch take off. You feel excited about the leadership at the position. There is an "it" factor to being a quarterback. Mitch has got that. The road will be rocky at times, he’s still going through development. But we have established an offensive identity. We aren’t gonna fool anybody—we are gonna run the football. That will allow Mitch to not have to win games week-in and week-[out]."

Alright, that makes me feel a bit better.  I'm hoping that with Nelson out of the picture, Leidner can develop a little swagger.  It doesn't have to be a ton of swagger, just something like along the lines of "On third and seven I can hit my guy on a slant route,in the numbers, with the nose of the ball pointed down and keep this drive going."  Give me that level of swagger, and I'll be a pretty happy guy.

Here's another, long-winded, reason I think we're going to need some swagger out of Mitch to feel good about this year: the schedule.  It's been been mentioned numerous times by writers on this site and elsewhere that the Gophers could be a better team this this year but end up with a worse record than last year because the schedule is brutal.  I can't disagree with that point.  So how could we be happy with six or seven wins a year after eight?  I'll give you a minute to decide for yourself that beating Iowa, Wisconsin, or Michigan would do a lot to help this feel like a good year.

If you want tons of stats from last year, I'll let you look over Bill Connelly's season preview, from whence the stats I'm about to reference originated.  Adjusted for strength of opponent, guess which two games were the Gophers worst offensive performance of the year.  Hint: Iowa and Wisconsin are the answer.

*Language alert.  Apologies for the coming swear words.*

Iowa was prior to the start of the world famous shits and motions which really took off against Nebraska (the Gophers best performance of the year by far).  Wisconsin was post shits and motions. Adjusted for opponent strength, the Gophers averaged 25.3 points per game over the season, with a standard deviation of 6.1 points (or slightly less than a touchdown).

Against Iowa, the Gophers scored an adjusted 17.3 points, and an adjusted 16.2 points against Wisconsin.  Both losses were outside a standard deviation of the mean.  They were horrible games for the offense, and it's not really close.

Against Northwestern (the third-worst performance), the Gophers scored an adjusted 20.0 points, within one standard deviation (touchdown) of the mean.  So why were the Iowa and Wisconsin games so horrible?

In the article, Limegrover accepted some responsibility for the Iowa debacle, and rightfully so after repeatedly running against thirteen or fourteen men on the line of scrimmage, if I remember correctly...  Still, philosophy and X's and O's were not the only reason our two biggest rivalry games were dismal disappointments.  It's easy to stack 11 defenders in the box when there's virtually no threat of a forward pass being completed.  There was no confidence, or "it," displayed in those two games.

The real shame of the Wisconsin loss is that it wasted the defense's best performance of the year (adjusted for opponent).  An average offensive performance would have put the Ax in the Coach Kill's trophy case.

Here's where Moose factors into this season's success.  If the Gophers are going to show marked improvement this year (record be damned), they're going to have to be competitive against our biggest rivals, and we're going to need a QB with the confidence that he can go win a big game.  We'll find out if Leidner has "it" during those two games.

Limegrover's statements make me think that Mitch has turned the confidence corner, and that's a good thing.  The rub in this situation is that he's a redhshirt sophomore.  We can't expect him to come out and shoot the lights out.  This year, I'll take a modicum of improvement statistically, and some the on-field leadership his coaches say they're seeing in the off season.

Hopefully, we have three years of solid and improving play.  Maybe Mitch will be the second coming of Weber (or better!).  I guess time will tell.  So here's to Mitch; long may he reign.