Matt Limegrover Q&A: Mitch Leidner has 'it' factor

The Jerry Kill era has featured steady improvement. And the offense has symbolized that ascent, making strides each of the last three seasons. Credit coordinator and line coach Matt Limegrover.

The scoring average has gone from 18.4 in 2011 to 22.1 to 25.7 last year. And the total offense has risen from 310.3 to 321.4 to 343.3 in 2013.

Limegrover has the makings of perhaps his best offense yet, as he has forged a hard-edged attack that is known for being physical and running the ball. The next step in the offense’s evolution is to augment a passing game that has lacked production. In fact, the entire offense needs a big-play element. Still, there is a lot to like for Limegrover, who spent some time discussing his 2014 unit.

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I caught up with Limegrover to get his thoughts on his 2014 unit.

Q: How do you feel about the quarterback situation?
A: I don’t think there is anything worse in football than trying to figure out who will be your quarterback. But we have had the quarterback battle playing out on the field recently. After Philip (Nelson) decided to leave, there wasn’t any doubt as to whose team this was with Mitch Leidner. That has given us some good direction. As a staff, we have been together a while and know what we want to do. But you still have to get it executed. You have to get kids in the right spot.

(Nelson and Leidner) each had their group of friends, neither wanted to step out and be that guy you need at QB … and they were friends. Neither took that step forward to be that guy you need as a leader at quarterback. Once Philip decided to leave, Coach Kill got up at a team meeting and said “here is your guy (Leidner). If he tells you to do something, you do it.”

It really has been fun to watch Mitch take off. You feel excited about the leadership at the position. There is an “it” factor to being a quarterback. Mitch has got that. The road will be rocky at times, he’s still going through development. But we have established an offensive identity. We aren’t gonna fool anybody—we are gonna run the football. That will allow Mitch to not have to win games week in and week.

Q: A better passing game is needed after it ranked 115th in the nation last season (148.1 ypg). How do you feel about the wideouts?
A: We have a young receiving crew, which makes it a little tougher on your quarterback. Four of our top five receivers are probably gonna be true sophomores or true freshmen. But we feel like we can run the ball and not have to throw it 45 times to win.

Q: Who do you like?
A: The kid who really has stepped up is Drew Wolitarsky. He’s a really complete guy. In high school, he looked like a kid who could make all of the catches. He looked like a receiver. We also have Donovahn Jones. He has “big play” written all over him, but he’s still learning to play the position after playing quarterback in high school. We can get him the ball is some ways. But for him to be that guy, he has to able to stick his foot on a slant and take it from a six-yard to a 60-yard gain. He also has to make the adjustment on the fade to go get the ball. That is where he is behind a guy like Wolitarsky, who isn’t the athlete Donovahn is. The sky is the limit for both of them.

We won’t run Mitch as much and want to get him comfortable with those guys.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Q: What will you do when you see eight or nine men in the box?
A: There were throws there last year (when we saw that). We have to be more consistent making those throws. We started making people pay by throwing to our tight ends. Against Iowa, they weren’t gonna let us run on them. A lot of the issue was I was bull-headed and wanted to run the ball on them. If we had been more in synch passing, we may have been able to turn the tide a bit.

Mitch has understood that we have to get good throwing into the flats, outs, hitches, curls because that’s the stuff we need to him to do when we see eight and nine in the box. The first thought is to throw deep when the box is jammed. But if they are gonna jam you between the tight ends, we have to get better on the edges.

Q: Will this be your best line?
A: I believe so. It hurts losing Caleb Bak. He was an unsung kid. He started at right guard for us (before a concussion ended his 2013 season and career). That hurts our depth. The front five will be the best in my time and maybe going back to when Coach (Glen) Mason was here. These guys have played a lot, the top six or seven guys. The best five will play. That allows for good competition and keeps guys hungry.

They finally have the big-picture stuff. I have spent time going over the stuff that hopefully takes them from average to special.

Q: Are you pleased with your running backs?
A: I don’t wanna say David (Cobb) was a surprise, but he figured out what he needed to do to stay on the field. Once out there, he wasn’t giving back his spot. Rodrick Williams saw what he was lacking and is working on the little things, blocking, catching. If he gets in, he doesn’t want to come out.

Berkley Edwards is the wild card. We lacked big-play ability. Two-play drives are good sometimes. It’s hard on a team when you have to execute long drives to score. Long drives can be good, they grind down defenses. But scoring fast is nice once in a while. We need more of that. We have been grinding too much. We need the scratch off lottery ticket rather than working the 80-hour week. Berkley can provide that.

Defenses will need to know when he’s in the game. He has Big Ten-skill position speed, getting him the ball in open spaces and stretching the defense horizontally and vertically.

Q: Did the staff visit any other schools in the offseason in search of new ideas?
A: Stan Parrish (former head coach at Wabash, Marshall, Kansas State and Ball State and offensive coordinator at Michigan) spent a lot of time with us. His son works up here. He would visit with us. He has a great relationship with Coach Kill. He would stay for a few days. We always had a lot of respect for him.

We met before spring ball and really liked what he talked about and started to incorporate some of it. It went so well, we had him come back in April after spring ball. It was great. He’ll be coming back up to see his son and see us, too. He’s a great teacher having been with Jon Gruden at Tampa Bay (as QB coach), he has a lot of knowledge. It has been good for us. He will tell it like it is.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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