Quick hitters

September 16, 2013

Recap: It was a different week, but the same story for the Gophers. A poorly quarterbacked first half and sloppy defense allowed an inferior Western Illinois squad to stay in the game until midway through the third quarter. Then, Minnesota’s undeniable physical advantages became too much for WIU, a Football Championship Subdivision school, to handle. The Gophers parlayed a strong running game into 23 unanswered points and coasted for much of the second half to an easy 29-12 victory. Freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner took over for injured starter Philip Nelson and played admirably in relief. Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure at halftime and was transported to a nearby hospital for precautionary measures.

It was over when: Rodrick Williams Jr. housed one from 37 yards out midway through the fourth quarter. Williams’ touchdown made it a three-score game and put the game out of reach.

Five observations:

1. Mitch Leidner is a more-than-capable-backup. The redshirt freshman led every Minnesota scoring drive and was effective as a runner and a passer in throwing situations

2. The passing game as a whole is still a liability. Starter Philip Nelson struggled finding his hot reads against the blitz. Leidner missed some open receivers too and bailed out of the pocket at the first sight of a pass rush more than a few times. The Gophers finished with just 124 passing yards

3. A healthy Donnell Kirkwood is a bonus at this point. Kirkwood’s return will give the Gophers three physical runners, and physicality is a big deal in the Big Ten. David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. have filled in well with Kirkwood out with an ankle injury. Cobb, Williams Jr. and the Gophers’ offensive line had their way with WIU defenders in the second half.

4. Theiren Cockran is someone to keep an eye on this season. The redshirt sophomore had a pair of sacks Saturday. The development of another viable pass-rusher will be crucial in Big Ten play and will allow Ra’Shede Hageman to have more freedom against opposing offensive lines.

5. Special teams look to be improved. It turned into a game of field position in the second half. Minnesota started several drives around midfield, and a good punting game limited WIU’s offensive play calling after halftime.

Quote of the day: "There wouldn’t be any of us sitting here today if it wasn’t for Jerry Kill. That’s the hard part about it.” -- Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys

Student enthusiasm report: The student section was about three-fourths full, but support was average at best. The crowd was a factor on only a handful of plays.

Up next: The Gophers will welcome San Jose State and NFL quarterback prospect David Fales to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. San Jose State is 1-1 this season.

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