Minnesota's Quarterback Situation Is Weird, Yet It's Working for the Gophers

Andrew CoppensContributor IOctober 25, 2013

Oct 5, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson (9) warms up before the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Move over Northwestern, there's a new king of the two-quarterback system in the Big Ten—Minnesota. 

The only difference between the two is that Northwestern's two-quarterback system actually has a known starter.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Golden Gophers acting head coach Tracy Claeys was all set on naming a starter, but instead we found out that Mitch Leidner had come down with an illness and had been unable to practice.

So, the best laid plans didn't happen, and things got messier when the depth chart for this week's game against Nebraska was released on Thursday—without a starter being named. 

It was yet another twist in a strange season for quarterbacks at the University of Minnesota.

Philip Nelson was anointed the starter after a solid spring and some significant starts last season. 

However, Nelson hasn't taken the reigns and run the offense like most thought he would coming into the season. 

He is completing just 53.9 percent of his passes for 492 yards in five games of action this season. Additionally, he has just three touchdown passes to four interceptions in the passing game.

Nelson is helping out in the run game, racking up 229 yards (4.5 yards a carry) with three touchdowns. 

Oct 19, 2013; Evanston, IL, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) runs for yardage against the Northwestern Wildcats during the first quarter Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Amazingly, those numbers are better than his freshman season, where he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw as many touchdowns (8) as interceptions.  

Nelson got hurt in the Western Illinois game, and that meant freshman Mitch Leidner stepping in to replace him. 

Leidner broke out in his first ever start, rushing of 151 yards and four touchdowns in the 43-24 win over San Jose State. 

So naturally, the Gophers would stick with what works. Except it didn't work two weeks later when Leidner started against Michigan and the Gophers lost by 29 points to the Wolverines.

Following the loss to Michigan, Nelson came back into the picture and the two-quarterback system was born in Minneapolis. 

Of course, the old adage is that if you have two quarterbacks you really don't have any at all. 

Yet, just like the team Minnesota beat last week, Northwestern, its two quarterback system is working because they have a plan. 

That plan, you ask? Find the hot hand and stick to it. 

"I don't know that there's a lot of difference" between the two, Claeys said to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "That's why whoever's got that hot hand, I think that's the way you go. (That's who) gives you the best opportunity to win."

Its not to say the Gophers are switching out quarterbacks every series or anything like that. Instead, the Gophers are taking a wait and see approach to the game and figuring out who can lift the team to its best possible offensive performance. 

If the pass game is struggling, look to Philip Nelson to come in, thanks to his better relationship with Derrick Engel, the team's leading receiver. 

If the run game isn't going, look to Mitch Leidner to come in and attempt to spark the ground game.  

Minnesota may not have one quarterback that can do everything well, but the combination of Leidner and Nelson proved it could work to win games last week. 

The Gophers were 9-of-14 in the pass game for 123 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 53 yards on 16 carries in a support role to running back David Cobb. 

Former Gopher great and now, radio announcer, Darrell Thompson thinks this system is working to highlight the good points of both quarterbacks (h/t to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press):

It's a really aggressive way to play. I was a little bit curious about it in the beginning. But this is what they do. I don't think there's really any drop-off. I think they both bring a different swagger to the table. It seems like just every time I start leaning a little bit towards one, the other one does something good.

So, while the system may seem strange or weird from the outside, it's hard to question the results so far.

Minnesota stands just one game shy of being bowl eligible for the second straight year and it has both Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner to thank for a good part of that success to date.


*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.