Punters on both sides besieged at the Horseshoe

Brian Hall

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Saturday offered a quick glimpse of déjà vu for Minnesota’s special team’s terror Jermaine Mays.

After the Gophers forced Ohio State to punt on its first possession, Mays lined up, ready to charge after Buckeye punter Andy Groom. Mays alertly sprinted through the middle of the Ohio State offensive line and got a hand on the ball. The wobbly kick landed out of bounds at the Buckeyes’ 30-yard line.

Minnesota made Mays’ work mean something, as seven plays later, kicker Dan Nystrom connected on a 24-yard field goal.

Two years ago in Columbus, Mays also broke free and blocked a first quarter punt, which the Gophers turned into a score.

“I came through untouched and made a play like I have been doing all year long,” Mays said of his fourth block of the season and fifth of his career. “I just want to make something happen. Blocking punts can change the game around.”

After the block, momentum was in Minnesota’s favor. But, unfortunately for Mays and the Gophers, that is where the déjà vu ended. The Nystrom kick would stand as Minnesota’s only points in a 34-3 loss.

Two years ago, Minnesota built on the momentum en route to a 29-17 win. On Saturday, the Gophers followed the Mays block with two special team’s mistakes, which turned into 10 of Ohio State’s first 17 points and handed the Buckeyes momentum.

“We had a couple of miscues in the kicking game that were costly,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “They had a couple of miscues in the kicking game that could’ve been costly.”

Each team suffered a blocked punt and a bad snap, but Ohio State made the most of its opportunities.

Near the end of the second quarter, Buckeye safety Donnie Nickey raced in untouched and blocked a Preston Gruening punt attempt.

Nickey fell on the ball at the Gophers’ 14-yard line. Four plays later, Mike Nugent’s field goal gave Ohio State a 10-3 lead.

On Minnesota’s first possession of the second half, three plays for a total of -4 yards had Gruening back to punt again.

This time, a low, misdirected snap by snapper Peter Prudden forced Gruening to dive to his right. The punter’s knee hit the turf to end the play. The Buckeyes started their possession at the nine-yard line and promptly scored a touchdown.

“When it first came back, I knew it was low and quite a ways to the right,” Gruening said. “I jumped at it and I just tried to block it. I dropped a knee, which I can’t do.”

Ohio State suffered its own punt problem in the fourth quarter after Groom fumbled the snap, but the Gophers followed with a turnover on downs.

“It depends on what happens after the miscue,” Mason said. “Field position becomes a critical thing, and that became an issue.”

The Gophers have blocked a punt in each of their past three trips to Columbus and each has resulted in points for Minnesota.

Buckeye’s brother dies

Ohio State receiver Chris Vance played on Saturday just hours after learning of his brother’s death in Florida.

According to the Fort Myers News-Press, Vance’s brother, Percy Burton, was fatally shot in the head outside an American Legion hall in Fort Myers, Fla., early Saturday morning.

“On the sidelines I thought about my brother every second, but I knew I had to do something, so I performed for my brother in the game,” Vance said. “He was one of my best friends. It’s funny because I talked to him yesterday and then he passed away today. I knew it was something (when he didn’t call before the game). I expected to talk to him this morning.”

Vance had only one catch on the afternoon, but the grab was a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

“There is no question about it. The touchdown (Vance) scored was a special thing for him,” Buckeye coach Jim Tressel said.

The News-Press reported that Fort Myers Police are investigating a double homicide that happened at approximately 1:10 a.m. Saturday. Witnesses told the police that Burton had shot the other man, the paper reported.

The incident marks the second straight season Vance has had to play against Minnesota following a personal tragedy. Vance’s father died of AIDS three days before the Gophers-Ohio State contest at the Metrodome last season.

Filling the ‘Shoe

in an announcement that would have any new Gophers stadium supporter having delusions of grandeur, Ohio State announced a crowd of 104,897 spectators. It marked the second largest attendance in Ohio Stadium history.

Sack-happy attack

following the contest, Mason praised the efforts of his defense. The Gophers sacked Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel five times, the most sacks Ohio State has given up this year.

Defensive end Paul Nixon led the charge with three sacks, giving him five on the season.

“The defensive line pushed the quarterback to me,” Nixon said. “I felt like I had to make a play. All the credit goes to the defensive line. Sacks are an overall defensive thing.”

Linebackers Ben West and Terrance Campbell each chimed in with one.

Campbell drew the ire of Mason after the freshman was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting and celebrating the sack.

In all, the Gophers made 10 tackles for loss.

Lehan hits the field

minnesota cornerback Mike Lehan played for the first time in three games Saturday.

The senior co-captain, who missed time due to a thigh injury, did not start but played mostly as the third cornerback.

Lehan registered his school record 31st career pass defensed in the second quarter, breaking the mark he shared with Willie Middlebrooks.

But, Lehan was beaten by Buckeye receiver Michael Jenkins in the second quarter on a 49-yard pass play to set up Ohio State’s first touchdown of the game.

On the play, Lehan appeared he might still be favoring the injured leg, but following the game Mason said his team was “fine” regarding health.