Across enemy lines: Q & A with The Minnesota Daily’s Mike Hendrickson


Quentin Shaw

Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn weaves through the defense in the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on October 8. The Illini lost 34-31.

By The Daily Illini sports staff

Editor’s Note: Every week The Daily Illini football staff will chat with a sports reporter from the opposing team. This week, our staff chatted with Mike Hendrickson who is the assistant sports editor for The Daily Minnesotan.

The Daily Illini: How has quarterback Mitch Leidner progressed and does he have a shot at being an NFL draft pick?

Mike Hendrickson: I think Leidner will be lucky to get drafted. I think by his standards, this has probably been his best season at Minnesota, but at the same time, his best game of the year was against Indiana State — that’s an FCS opponent. So in games that have mattered, he hasn’t been what he should be in order to get drafted.

DI: With Minnesota’s two-headed running back attack of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, how does the offense utilize them and how much does it rely on them?

MH: For most of the season, Rodney Smith has gotten more carries, but that’s more due to Brooks having an injury that occurred some time in early August that kept him sidelined for the first two or three games. Smith this year has really established as one of the better running backs in the Big Ten, and last year, Brooks was better than Smith.

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DI: Who stands out on the Minnesota defense?

MH: Some defensive linemen. Steven Richardson has been just great on defense for them this year as a defensive lineman, but he’s going through the concussion protocol and will likely miss the Illinois game. One of Minnesota’s oldest players, Damarius Travis, he’s a very strong safety — he’s probably their best player on defense just overall, just a great player for Minnesota.

DI: Minnesota’s offensive line versus Illinois’ defensive line could be Saturday’s key matchup — how do see that panning out?

MH: Minnesota’s O-line has been hit with a few injuries lately, but it looks like most of its guys are coming back. Arguably their best offensive lineman, Jonah Pirsig, is still out for the game against Illinois with a left arm injury. Minnesota didn’t rush for as many yards against Rutgers as I thought they would, so maybe that played into it as well. But I agree with you, the Minnesota O-line and the Illinois D-line is definitely one of the more interesting matchups of the game because Illinois’ D-line is so strong.

DI: With Illinois’ quarterback situation up in the air, would Minnesota have more of a problem containing a running quarterback like Chayce Crouch or pocket passers like Wes Lunt or Jeff George?

MH: Definitely the running quarterback. I think they faced two running quarterbacks this season — Trace McSorely of Penn State and Giovanni Resigno of Rutgers. Both of those quarterbacks had good games. It seems they have had trouble with running quarterbacks, and it’s definitely an interesting matchup if Illinois goes with Crouch.

DI: Where does the legal situation stand with the five Minnesota players who aren’t able to play at home due to a restraining order stemming from a sexual assault case?

MH: It’s a little murky still, but the two cornerbacks (of the five players accused) are KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford. When these issues first came to light, they were suspended for three games by Tracy Claeys and then were brought back. Claeys has said they’re going to play their best 11 players that are active and he said that all the players with restraining orders are active because they can be for away games. KiAnte Hardin is the main one because he’s listed as a stater for the Illinois game as its starting cornerback and as their returner.

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