Leidner:offense isn’t a finished product

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Gophers beat Oregon State 30-23 in the season opener for both teams Thursday, but Minnesota's offense wasn't exactly what fans were hoping for.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Gophers beat Oregon State 30-23 in the season opener for both teams Thursday, but Minnesota’s offense wasn’t exactly what fans were hoping for.

With a new offensive coordinator and a fifth-year senior quarterback, the Gophers were expected to be more creative and prolific than a year ago, when they were among the least-exciting offensives in major college football. Their scoring average (22.5 points) ranked 106th nationally, and rushing (144 yards) and passing (214) ranked 100th and 73rd among 127 FBS teams.

Minnesota did enough to beat Oregon State, but the offense looked a lot like last year’s, which prompted coach Tracy Claeys to fire offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and replace him with Lakeville native Jay Johnson.

It was an inauspicious debut. The Gophers’ two opening drives against the worst defense in the Pac-12 last season were three-and-outs, and two pistol-formation snaps sailed over the head of quarterback Mitch Leidner, one resulting in a safety.

Further, the team’s 280 yards of total offense were 79 fewer than the Gophers’ 2015 average.


“I think there was a lot of different changes that we hadn’t had a year ago,” Leidner said. “I mean, we took quite a few shots downfield that we hadn’t done in the past. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come down with many of them. But I think that will come with time.”

The goal this season is a touchdown per quarter, and the Gophers did average that. But they also had two scoreless quarters against a team that went 2-9 in 2015.

It didn’t help that conference rivals Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa looked sharp while scoring 77, 63 and 45 points, respectively, in victories Saturday, and Wisconsin upset then-No. 5 LSU, 16-14, at Lambeau Field.

Maybe on Saturday against FCS Indiana State, which comes to TCF Bank Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff, the changes will come. The Gophers follow with Colorado State on Sept. 14 before opening Big Ten play at Penn State on Oct. 1.

Leidner insisted Tuesday that the Gophers’ offense already has changed dramatically.

“Just the demeanor of Coach Jay, when you come to the sideline and talk to him,” he said. “It’s just completely different than it was a year ago. He’s confident in his play-calling and what he has in us offensive players, so I think people will keep seeing changes as we progress through the season here.”

One of the changes Johnson made was giving more responsibility to Leidner, now a fifth-year senior three-year starter. Leidner estimated he changed plays at the line of scrimmage “eight to 10 times,” something he wasn’t allowed to do last year.

In Claeys’ estimation, that could have happened more. He attributed that to Leidner and Johnson still getting familiar with the other.


“It just takes a little time, and we’ll get it figured out,” Claeys said. “I expect to make a big improvement this week, and Mitch will tell you he can play better. There’s a lot more on his plate, and you know, he missed a few things here or there, but nothing critical. That’s the thing that pleased me the most. We stayed away from any of the critical areas, blowing any protections and things like that.”

Leidner completed 13 of 26 attempts for 130 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time since a 27-0 loss at Northwestern last October, a stretch of eight games.

“We did shoot ourselves in the foot a couple times,” Leidner said. “I think at the practice we had Sunday, we were able to make some of those corrections. And even on Sunday, to be able to see the amount of confidence that just a win boosted us, and gave those young guys who have only played in one game.

“To see how they reacted after that at practice on Sunday - it was pretty cool to see, so I’m excited about keeping incorporating the things we need to work on this week, and really showcase those things on Saturday.”

Still, there’s pressure on the offense to improve, something not lost on Claeys.

Asked whether he expects more changes from Johnson as the offensive coordinator gets comfortable in his role, Claeys said: “I guess we’ll see. That’s what he was hired for. Whatever we have to do to score points; that’s his job.”

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