So Saturday was interesting wasn't it? Buckle up because this week is going to be fascinating!
The offense, led by Mitch Leidner, was incredibly inept for about the first 23 minutes of the game. Then Leidner got in rhythm, contributed to a couple of key scoring drives before half and a quick-strike touchdown to open the third quarter. Then they were abysmally awful for nearly the rest of the game before looking competent for a go-ahead touchdown near the end. But that's not exactly what I'm here to talk about this morning.
What fascinated me was the vitriol and polarizing stances held by so many Gopher fans throughout the game. Mitch Leidner makes an awful pass and Twitter would explode with "See I told you all that Leidner was terrible!" Then Mitch would be Mitch, turn things around and lead a nice drive when it mattered and the other side would thump their virtual chest.
What I wonder is...is there a middle ground? Or why is it so important to paint those who don't agree with you into a corner?
I'm going to dive into it. Let's talk about it, get it out of our system and move on to Kent State.
What to make of Mitch?
I am firmly in the camp that believes Mitch Leidner is maddeningly inconsistent and an average quarterback. He is not going to win games on his own, he is a below average passer, he does do some things well that are absolutely required out of a quarterback and most importantly he is the best option that we have!
I know others will read this, hear that I don't agree he should be benched and moved to tight end, and assume that I am a Leidner apologist. I am not. And that is kind of my point. I don't have to think he is really good...just that he's the best option we have and I do not agree that he is terrible. He is terrible at times and good at times.
So you know where I stand and I have questions that are important ones in regards to what I anticipate will be this week's debate.
1) Can we define what bad QB play is?
This I think is really important. I would argue that "bad" is a quarterback who does things that really hurt your team's chances of winning. Namely that is turnovers and poor decisions. Leidner has not thrown an interception since the Ohio State game last November. At Nebraska, at Wisconsin, Missouri in the bowl game, TCU and at Colorado State all were games where Leidner did not turn the ball over. And it wasn't for lack of attempts.
The Leidner we saw at TCU last year? THAT was bad.
Missing receivers occasionally does not make a quarterback terrible. Missing Nick Hart on that key third down on the second to last drive was a terrible pass. It does not define Leidner. The pass to K.J. Maye was a beauty. It does not define Leidner. The inconsistency...that defines Leidner.
2) What other important attributes are required from a quarterback?
An to follow up on that question, does Mitch Leidner possess them? I mentioned the lack of interceptions and that really gets to the fact that you have a quarterback under center who makes good decisions. There are other quarterbacks who have a much better arm and will rack up much better stats than Leidner in terms of yards and completion percentage. But making good decisions is kind of important when it comes to helping your team win.
Contrary to what many people are saying, Leidner makes reads, checks down and often throws to the right receiver.
Mitch can't throw on a straight drop, they say. Mitch locks on to his 1st option, they say. (h/t @WillHenry247) pic.twitter.com/5FPjHAZjMA— Matt Humbert (@MVofDT) September 8, 2015
Once again, please don't insert words into my mouth when you read this. He is not 100% in his decision making. Nobody is. And when he does throw an interception later this seasonI'm really looking forward to a lot of "See, I told you!" tweets. The point is that he usually makes good decisions and we call get pissed when either he misses the wide open receiver or the receiver drops it. He will make mistakes, but he limits them. Decision making isn't his problem, executing on the right ones is.
3) What are our other options?
Answer? We don't really have any.
Yes...I know that Demry Croft has been hailed as a great passer and he may very well become a great Gopher quarterback. I was at several fall practices and I came away VERY impressed. Leidner and Streveler were adequate, Croft was natural and smooth and accurate and just plain impressive. But I also fully believe that looking good at half-speed in practice is one thing. Leading an offense against any D1 opponent is a completely different animal.
Give him a chance? Just throw him out there? Can he be any worse? YES! He can be worse. Just throwing him out there may actually hurt our chances of winning now while also stunting his own growth.
Here is the thing. We have already proven we can win with Mitch. 8-4 last year against essentially the same schedule, remember? In all of his imperfections, we won 8 games and made the best bowl in most our lifetimes with Leidner as quarterback. Has he been worse this year than he was last year? NO, not even close. Has he been any better when we really were hoping for some improvement? Nope, but not improving does not mean you jump to the unknown.
Croft may be great. I just don't think Leidner has proven that he needs to be dumped for the next great hope. Croft may become a great passer but decision making, reading defenses and leading a Big Ten offense are no guarantees. And if Jim Souhan thinks the Gopher should go with Croft that is reason enough to stick with Leidner.
But do not forget that we have won with Leidner in the past. We aren't going to be knocking on the door of a top 10 ranking with him, but we aren't with Croft either. Not yet. Streveler? I'm not even going to go there. The staff clearly does not trust him to throw the ball.
4) What should we actually be upset about?
As I noted above several times, in no way are things perfect. There are definitely issues to be concerned about, I'm simply arguing that they do not begin and end with Mitch Leidner. At this point in the Jerry Kill era it is almost inexcusable that we have not found an answer at quarterback. This team has an identity on the ground as physical team, this team has established a great defense with depth, but the staff has yet to recruit and develop the most important position on the field. That isn't on Mitch. That is on the coaching staff.
Our receiving corp isn't doing Mitch any favors either and can't be let off the hook. Multiple dropped passes per game, including good passes to open receivers, has hurt the entire offense as well as Leidner's completion stats (leading to more complaints about his performances). It's inexcusable to have this many dropped passes on catchable balls.
The offensive line? What was supposed to be a strength has been a challenge up to this point. The result is a couple strip-sacks were not Leidner's fault. It's also put Mitch in the position of throwing under pressure far too often, a situation that helps no one (especially during key plays).
Yes, we absolutely need to be upset when Mitch misses wide open receivers on easy passes. Nobody is saying we have to be happy with his mistakes. The truth is though that our other options are really very limited. I'm very intrigued by Croft and will be very excited to see what happens either next season or if Leidner gets injured (note, not saying I'm excited for Mitch to get injured). But for now, this is the QB hand we have been dealt as fans. The status quo isn't likely to change and we're on the "same team" here as fans. I think folks need to recognize that we're seeing one of two extremes too often. There is a middle ground and for better or worse it's unlikely to change anytime soon.