When Mitch Leidner isn’t out hunting deer in the fall, the former Gophers quarterback is keeping a close eye on his old team, and Leidner experienced post-traumatic stress after the U.S. lost 14-10 to Bowling Green in September.
In Leidner’s 2015 junior season, the U beat Kent State just 10-7. Home fans booed the poor offensive performance against an opponent in the Mid-American Conference, and then head coach Jerry Kill was reluctant to react in his fifth and final season with the U.
“In the end we won, but it was one of the worst feelings because you know you didn’t play well and should have blown this team out,” Leidner told Pioneer Press this week.
“I should have written to him,” said Leidner. “Again I know the feeling.”
Morgan and the Gophers bounced back in October and won four games in a row, but after a poor offensive game in a loss to Illinois and a few misses in a loss in Iowa, Morgan found himself at the blunt end of criticism again. Leidner recognized the feeling again.
Leidner started 41 games for the Gophers from 2013 to 2016, and the doubters grew after a successful season and a trip to the Citrus Bowl in 2014. Leidner said he didn’t have many social media connections at the time, but he listened used by the naysayers.
“I would say, ‘Oh, yeah, whatever,'” he said. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Morgan said he mostly checks his Twitter and Instagram accounts during the season, but like Leidner, criticism reaches him.
“He hears the external factors,” said Fleck. “I was told a long time ago that people who say, ‘I ignore all of this, don’t listen’, ‘that’s wrong. This is wrong. We all hear it and we all see it. It’s what you do with it. ”
Morgan won his 25th game as a starter in Indiana last week, becoming Minnesota’s top quarterback since 1959. Morgan (25-12) overtook Leidner (24-17), which was news to Leidner. Morgan’s performance also drew ridicule for not raising the mark.
“I felt for him; It’s just too bad, ”said Leidner. “He’s done a lot of good for the program and the university, and he’s held up so well. You just know that he worked his (bum) off. ”
Morgan becomes Minnesota (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) against No. 14 Lead Wisconsin (8-3, 6-2) in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s ax at 3 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. Against a lights-out-of-badger defense, Morgan will likely have to make some big throws to score a surprise. But without a home win against their rivals since 2003, every win will be monumental.
Morgan, who is finishing his fifth season, has not said if he will take advantage of a sixth year of eligibility next season. Saturday is Senior Day, but having Morgan and other senior players attending the pre-game celebrations doesn’t necessarily mean this will be their final season, Fleck said.
The criticism Morgan has faced has increased since an 11-2 season in 2019 that included a win over an Auburn ranked team in the Outback Bowl. Morgan, who has the highest close percentage (61.2) and highest win percentage (0.676), has seen its numbers decline since then. You can’t deny that. But it was clear what Morgan means to the program after Fleck presented him with a match ball in the Memorial Stadium locker room last weekend.
“I have the greatest respect for this guy,” said recipient Chris Autman-Bell. “He takes the most crap every day from all fans, all people in the world. He has the toughest positions in the world, the toughest position on the football team. I’m proud of this guy, I love him to death. ”
Gophers’ offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. knew nothing about the win record until Fleck announced it to the team.
“When I saw this and looked over at Tanner, I honestly was thinking about what he went through, who he is as a person,” said Sanford. “… This is really one of the best people I have ever met. Not just to coach, but to spend time with them, hear their story and have deep conversations with them. I can’t say enough about him and he is the reason I do what I do. People like Tanner Morgan are the reason I love coaching so much. ”
Morgan continued to play after losing his confidante, coach, mentor and friend, Ted, to cancer in July.
Morgan, who is generously listed at 6-foot-2, wanted to go to western Michigan before Fleck went and recruited him to Minnesota. He believed in himself enough to commit himself immediately and arrive at the underground sight unseen.
“All he does is keep climbing to the top despite some physical challenges,” said Fleck. “He’s a phenomenal competitor. … He is very brave. ”
Leidner wondered how many minor injuries Morgan had to overcome since the middle of the 2018 season to be Minnesota’s only quarterback. Leidner played through a broken wrist all the way to his non-throwing arm since 2014 and had torn ligaments in his foot during the majority of the 9-4 season in 2016. There were other problems too, “shoulders, knees, elbows, ankles, everything,” he said.
The only time Morgan was publicly close to missing a game was in 2019 when he suffered a concussion against Iowa. He cleared the logs and played Northwestern the following week, starting 37 games in a row.
After Bowling Green, Morgan wavered on the podium for a press conference three days later. “Tanner takes personal responsibility to a completely different level,” said Fleck. “He almost takes it to a head coach level where you own the whole thing.”
“Honestly, it’s always a really good reminder of where my identity is,” he said after losing Illinois. “It can be very easy to get caught up as a University of Minnesota golden gopher soccer player when things are going well. If not, it is a great reminder of where my true identity lies and that is in Christ. ”
Linebacker Jack Gibbens saw Morgan “on point all the time,” but as one of his roommates, saw Morgan being goofy, playing golf in the summer and just relaxing at home.
Leidner, now a traveling steel products seller and part-time trainer for seven-a-seven in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, has spoken to Morgan a couple of times, but it’s Conor Rhoda, who works for a software company in St. Paul, who really is in Contact remains. They don’t talk much about soccer, but Rhoda, who started 4-3 in 2016-17, texted Morgan about soccer after the Indiana win last week.
The core of the message: “You have to be really proud of what you have done. You did what no one here has done before. ”
“All I was saying was that this place was starving for constant quarterback play, and Mitch brought some of that with him,” said Rhoda. “… Unfortunately for the fans, I think it’s hard to keep track when they feel like the rest of the team is one step above what it was five years ago. While Tanner is the most enduring product they’ve ever had, it could be that he held them back. Whether he has it or not, it’s hard for people to keep track of it. ”
1. Tanner Morgan, 25-12
2. Mitch Leidner, 24-17
3. Asad Abdul-Khaliq, 22-15
4. Bryan Cupito, 20-16
5. Ricky Foggie, 20-19
6. Adam Weber, 17-33
7. Sandy Stephens, 16-9
8. Tony Dungy, 16-16 years old
9. Billy Cockerman, 12-8
10t. John Hankinson, 10-8-1
10t. Cory Sauter, 10-24
Source: Gopher Athletics
Note: records since 1959
A handful of important gophers take part in Senior Day, although the eligibility is still valid
Gophers were eliminated from the Big Ten West race with Iowa beating Nebraska
Pioneer Press Big Ten Football Picks: Week 13
Gophers Football vs. Wisconsin: Keys To The Game, How To Watch It, And Who Has An Edge
The growth spurt from Gophers Trill Carter helps himself and young children he inspires