Minnesota tries to get passing going, with Kent State next
Sep. 18, 2015
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Passing has been a work in progress for Minnesota for a while.
The offense's imbalance has proven to be problematic at times, and junior quarterback Mitch Leidner has just a 52.4 percent completion rate for his career.
The Golden Gophers were 12th in the 14-team Big Ten last season with an average of 147.2 yards through the air per game. They're currently 10th in the conference entering Saturday's game against Kent State.
Leidner ought to have more help, though, as the season gets going. K.J. Maye and Drew Wolitarsky have begun to emerge as a reliable wide receiver duo.
Through two games, Maye and Wolitarsky have combined to catch 22 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. In the entire 2014 season, they totaled together 26 receptions for 404 yards and one score.
"Having guys like that to go to in key situations gives a quarterback like me a lot of confidence," said Leidner, who has not thrown an interception in his last 153 attempts, believed by Minnesota to be the third-longest active streak in the FBS.
Leidner found Maye, a senior from Alabama, streaking up the left sideline for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds left in regulation last week at Colorado State to give the Gophers the lead in a game they won in overtime. Wolitarsky, a junior from California, has moved inside this season, but both players can play the "X'' and the "Z'' positions. In fact, on Maye's big catch, Leidner expected Wolitarsky to be running that fade route.
"K.J. told Drew to go down inside: 'I'll go take this one,'" Leidner said, smiling. "I was like, 'All right. They're both my guys. Whoever wants it, go for it.'"
Here are some key story lines surrounding the game Saturday between Kent State (1-1) and Minnesota (1-1):
Kent State has been in the national news this week and not because of that routine win over an FCS opponent. April Goss, a four-year member of the team, made an extra point in the second quarter Saturday against Delaware State and became the second woman to score in a major college football game. Katie Hnida also did so for New Mexico in 2003.
As the third-string kicker, Goss is unlikely to get in another game, but the feat of the former high school soccer player from Pennsylvania has been enhanced by the way she's been embraced by the rest of the team.
"Didn't really do it for the hype and the pub," coach Paul Haynes said. "We knew that was going to happen with it, but she deserves it."
BEYOND HIS YEARS
Sophomore defensive tackle Steven Richardson has fast become the stalwart of the front four, with a team-high 3 1/2 tackles for loss through Minnesota's first two games. He has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 1 1/2 sacks, too, following a breakout performance at Colorado State last week.
"Steve Richardson played one of the best games I've ever seen a defensive tackle play," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said.
WELCOME TO THE LAND OF LAKES
This is Kent State's first visit to Minnesota. In 2006, the Gophers traveled to northeast Ohio under coach Glen Mason, who was also once the head coach of the Golden Flashes, and beat Kent State 44-0 in the season opener.
Kent State has never beaten a team from the Big Ten, though the Golden Flashes beat Rutgers in 2012 before the Scarlet Knights joined the league. They lost 52-3 at Illinois in the season opener. Minnesota opened the week as a 23-point favorite.
Kent State ran 91 plays against Delaware State last week, gaining 493 yards to an almost unfathomable net of minus-33 yards for the Hornets in a 45-13 victory.
"Are we going to hold Minnesota to minus-33? Probably not. But we still want that same type of attitude. We still want that same type of effort going into every game," Haynes said.