Leidner, Minnesota hang on to beat Kent State

MINNEAPOLIS — Mitch Leidner and Minnesota survived another shaky showing by the offense, using a second quarter touchdown pass to K.J. Maye to eke out a 10-7 victory Saturday over Kent State.

Freshman cornerback Demetrius Monday was the star of a feisty performance by the Kent State defense, with two interceptions in the first half and an 80-yard touchdown return in the third quarter of a fumble he forced himself.

Leidner finished 17 for 27 for 184 yards, but the statistics didn’t look as bad as some of the throws. The junior just hasn’t been able to establish a rhythm in the pocket, causing a major concern for a team with sights set on winning the Big Ten’s West Division.

The Golden Gophers (2-1) held the Golden Flashes (1-2) to 142 total yards on 59 plays.

Kent State had all kinds of opportunities to win this game. That speedy, experienced Minnesota defense, making a case to be the best in the Big Ten, wouldn’t allow it.

Anthony Melchiori’s 10th punt of the afternoon for the Flashes was a dud, netting only 2 yards after Colin Reardon threw an incompletion on third-and-9 from the Gophers 42.

But Rodney Smith, who finished with 73 yards on 30 carries, was taken down for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-16 to prompt another possession change. The Flashes took over at their 7, Reardon misfired again on fourth-and-3 at his 31 and the Gophers got the ball back.

But Ryan Santoso, who made a 42-yard field goal on the opening drive, was wide left from 44 yards to give the Flashes yet another try with 1:18 left at their 27. Reardon, who went 10 for 28 for 63 yards, was sacked by Julian Huff for a 9-yard loss on third down and was well off the mark again on fourth down.

The Gophers crossed the goal line with a shrewd call, when Maye went in motion as if he was going to take a handoff on a jet sweep play. He stopped, pivoted and retreated left to catch a wide-open toss in the flat and race into the end zone for the 14-yard gain with 51 seconds remaining before halftime.

Maye has three of Leidner’s four touchdown passes this season.

Leidner didn’t have much help in front of him. With left guard Jon Christenson out following knee surgery and Joe Bjorklund starting in his place, the Gophers offensive line struggled often. Smith had little room to run, and Leidner hurried several passes.

This was by far Kent State’s best showing against the Big Ten since coach Paul Haynes took over in 2013 for Darrell Hazell, who’s currently at Purdue, or actually ever. The Golden Flashes have never defeated a team from Big Ten. No, beating Rutgers before the Scarlet Knights joined the conference can’t count. Kent State lost 52-3 to Illinois two weeks ago, 66-0 to Ohio State last season and 34-0 to Penn State two years ago.

Kent State third string kicker April Goss, who last week became just the second woman to score in a major college football game with an extra point in a win over Delaware State, traveled with the team but did not get in the game.

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