Column: Nelson’s the guy at quarterback, ya feel me?

November 05, 2013

Earlier this season, Minnesota’s quarterback controversy was a premier talking point for local pundits, including myself.

That feels like a long time ago.

Philip Nelson has played the position almost perfectly the last three weeks, disproving almost everything I thought about the true sophomore earlier in the season.

Earlier in the season, I wrote that Mitch Leidner should be the team’s starting signal-caller. At that point, he deserved to be.

I cited Nelson’s passing inaccuracy and on-field demeanor. Leidner, on the other hand, was fresh off an electrifying performance in which he rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns against San Jose State. Nelson validated my point with a stinker of a game against Iowa.

But since that game, he’s been nothing short of spectacular in running the Gophers’ offense efficiently, while sprinkling in the occasional big play for an offense that had lacked firepower this season.

My apologies, Mr. Nelson.

Nelson has rebounded after a poor outing, and he hasn’t had a bad game since.

In the last three games — all Minnesota wins — he’s completed 63 percent of his passes and accounted for eight touchdowns.

Nelson is taking fewer sacks, getting rid of the ball quicker, and he’s more successful as a result.

And credit the coaching staff for making the switch back to Nelson.

Leidner started against Michigan, Northwestern and Nebraska but didn’t spark the offense the same way he did against SJSU.

The coaches clearly had the pulse of the team and made the switch at the right time during the first half of the Northwestern game and again in the Nebraska game. Nelson started against Indiana.

Creative play-calling the last two weeks has opened up the field for Nelson and helped the offense find balance. Nelson hasn’t looked back, and neither have the Gophers.

Meanwhile, coaches have found a role for Leidner, too. In each of the last two games, Leidner — primarily running the read option — has led the Gophers on scoring drives.

Leidner helped invigorate Minnesota’s offense early in the second quarter of Saturday’s win against Indiana. His touchdown run gave the Gophers a 14-13 lead, and he marched Minnesota down the field on the next possession. Nelson held it down the rest of the way.

On Sunday, head coach Jerry Kill praised quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski for developing two quarterbacks.

“We need them both,” Kill said. “It seems to be working.”

Yes, it does. And I didn’t think it could. I stand corrected.

Ya feel me?

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