Upchurch shines on special teams

Brian Stensaas

Rarely has freshman cornerback Danny Upchurch been called upon in his position this season to come up big for the 6-1 (2-1 Big Ten) Minnesota football team.

Turns out, the Columbus, Ohio, native has been making noise on the other side of the ball.

Though he has seen action in all seven games, Upchurch has just two total tackles. But on the Gophers’ first play from scrimmage last Thursday against Northwestern, Coach Glen Mason opted to run Upchurch on a reverse play. The decision worked, as Upchurch scampered for 14 yards on his first career carry. The yards were the Gophers’ first of 418 on the evening, their most since racking up 367 against Illinois in 1999.

But where Upchurch has really shown his athletic play is on special teams. Though Jermaine Mays has been the star, blocking three punts in as many weeks, Upchurch is fearless at returning punts. He has been the unlikely main man at the position since the Sept. 21 Buffalo game, returning all but eight punts the team has fielded this season.

In 27 returns, Upchurch has 216 yards, including a 27-yard return against the Bulls.

As a team, the Gophers are averaging 8.9 yards per punt return so far this season.

“I’ll do anything that will get me on the field,” Upchurch said. “I just want to return the ball and give the offense a better opportunity to score.”

Though the team figure ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten (7th) and the nation (87th), it is a part of Minnesota’s special teams which has been consistent all season and will have to stay strong if a bowl game is expected.

The Gophers take on Michigan State (3-3, 1-1) this Saturday. During last year’s homecoming game versus the Spartans, Minnesota received only one punt – a fair catch by Tellis Redmon.

Lehan hospitalized

senior co-captain cornerback Mike Lehan, sidelined since before the Oct. 5 Illinois game, was hospitalized over the weekend for precautionary testing reasons.

As of Sunday night, Lehan was still in the hospital.

Lehan, the only starting senior on defense, woke up a day before Minnesota played the Illini unable to walk and doctors have yet to determine what caused the ailment. Lehan can now walk, but not without pain.

Close but Ö

despite having only one loss on the season, the Gophers came close but did not crack the top-25 in either the AP poll or the coaches’ poll this week.

Minnesota was figuratively the 26th team in the coaches’ poll, receiving 83 points. Colorado was 25th with 92 points.

In the AP poll, the Gophers also received recognition, earning 18 points. Even if the team would have been ranked in the top-25 for the first time since the end of the 1999 season, Mason said there isn’t, “any good or any bad” thing about coaching a ranked team.