Rushing Attack Powers Gophers Past SJSU

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Today's game between Minnesota and San Jose State was a battle of differing offensive styles, as the Gophers' powerful running game went head-to-head with the Spartans' potent passing attack.

At the half, Spartans senior QB David Fales, a highly-regarded NFL prospect, had thrown for 294 yards and Minnesota held a slim 20-17 lead.

But, in the end, redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner and Minnesota (4-0) had run over the visiting Mountain West Conference opponent by amassing 353 rushing yards on 67 carries during the Gophers' 43-24 victory at TCF Bank Stadium.

Go Gophers! Mitch Leidner
Go Gophers!
Leidner rushed for 151 yards on Saturday.
Go Gophers!
Leidner tied a Minnesota school record for a QB by running for four touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback to accomplish that feat since Curtis Wilson had four scores in a 33-9 win versus Indiana on Nov. 18, 1967. Leidner also finished with 151 net rushing yards, the seventh-best effort by a QB in the program's history.

Junior running back David Cobb added two more rushing TDs, as Minnesota dominated the time of possession by controlling the ball for more than 41 minutes.

"The thing is, we took what they gave us. We tried play-action passes, but their safeties were playing about 12 to 14 yards deep in the soft corner," Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. "So with that, it is hard to play a play-action, but we hit them a couple times. If you don't get that extra guy down there in the run then you better be able to run the ball. And then the quarterback is the extra guy that can run it."

Both Leidner and Cobb wound up with 100-yard performances, as Cobb finished with 25 carries for 125 net yards. With Leidner's rushing total, it marks the first time in program history that Minnesota has had a pair of QB's with 100-yard rushing games in a season, as sophomore Philip Nelson ran for 122 yards at New Mexico State.

"Running the action game and mixing up the power game it was a good formula, no question about that," Kill said. "I am proud of the kids. Mitch (Leidner) is a tough kid. He will be a little sore tomorrow. It's good that we have the depth that we have. I appreciate the kid's efforts."

Fales wound up completing 22-of-35 passes for 439 yards and three TDs, but the Gophers intercepted a pair of his pass attempts and did much better controlling SJSU's signal-caller in the second half. Fales was 10-of-19 for just 145 yards and the two INTs after the break. In the third quarter, he was limited to 1-of-6 for just nine yards.

During its non-conference schedule, Minnesota ran the ball 197 times for 1,129 net yards, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. With the six rushing TDs in today's victory against the Spartans, the Gophers have scored 16 rushing touchdowns already this season. Last year, the Gophers scored 14 rushing TDs in 13 games.

Today's game marked the first career start and first full game for Leidner, who has now rushed the ball 46 times for 251 yards (5.5 yards per rush) and five TDs this season. Cobb, who was not listed on the season-opening depth chart, has 53 carries for 332 yards (6.3 yards per rush) and five TDs. Additionally, sophomore RB Rodrick Williams Jr. has 45 attempts for 267 yards (5.9 yards per rush) and three TDs.

"The start of the game was a little tough, but the offensive line did a great job pushing," Cobb said. "The coaches kept telling us to be patient and make the right decisions, so that the big plays can happen. And Mitch [Leidner] did a great job today."

The 43 points scored by the Gophers marked the third time in four games this season that Minnesota has surpassed the 40-point barrier. It's the first time since 2006 that Minnesota has had at least three games with 40 or more points, and the Gophers head into next week's Big Ten home opener versus Iowa with an average of 41.8 points per game.

Fales opened some eyes and proved his value as a pro-style passer who might be the best QB the Gophers face this season. But Minnesota's ability to control the football for more than two-thirds of the game made it difficult for Fales and the Spartans to stay in the game.

What's impressive about the Gophers' rushing attack is that they have been able to continue to be dominant despite the absence of two key starters. Junior running back Donnell Kirkwood has been out of the lineup since injuring his ankle in the season-opening 51-23 win against UNLV on Aug. 29, and Nelson missed his first start at QB this week after suffering a hamstring injury in last week's 29-12 win versus Western Illinois.

Next week, Minnesota faces its first conference test of the season, as the Hawkeyes (3-1) come to town to battle the Gophers for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy. If the Gophers are able to reclaim the pig from their rivals to the south, this Minnesota rushing game figures to play a key role.

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