April 27, 2013
On a beautiful spring day at TCF Bank Stadium, a pair of young quarterbacks put on a show for the thousands of Gopher fans in attendance. Returning starter Philip Nelson came out firing, and redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner came on strong later in the game.
Nelson’s Maroon team scored both of its first-half touchdowns on the ground, but that did not overshadow the sophomore quarterback’s passing game. He completed all 10 of his passes in the half for 119 yards.
“It was just really great to get out here in a game-like atmosphere and being able to have more consecutive drives and being able to really move the ball down the field like a real-life game,” Nelson said. “That helps build some momentum.”
Nelson completed the longest pass of the game, a 39-yarder to Derrick Engel, to open the fourth quarter.
“We had struggled on that a couple other practices,” Nelson said. “It felt really good to finally complete one of those and move forward from there.”
Two plays later, Nelson again connected with Engel for his only touchdown of the game. Nelson finished the game 13-of-17 for 179 yards. The sophomore, who said he feels faster than last year, also used his legs for a 20-yard run.
Leidner, playing in his first spring game, started out running more than passing. But he started to throw more and eventually helped the Gold team take the lead.
“I was able to read the defense quicker,” Leidner said. “Jamel (Harbison) was running some great routes, along with Victor (Keise) and Logan (Hutton). It was just getting easier as the game went on.”
Both quarterbacks feel they have grown since last season. Nelson said his ability to read coverage has improved, while Leidner said he feels more comfortable with the Gopher offense. The competition between the two has helped both improve.
Though Nelson took over the starting role as a true freshman, head coach Jerry Kill is not ruling out the possibility of Leidner challenging for playing time. The depth chart for the season opener will not be set until fall camp is over.
“Competition is always going to be a competition,” Kill said. “I’ve been that way everywhere I’ve been. Somebody has to take Philip’s job. Right now it’s his job. Somebody has to take it. That’s part of how you play.”
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