Music City adds to its history of hosting harmonic duos

Brian Stensaas

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Brooks and Dunn, Ashley and Winona, Charlie Daniels and his fiddle.

The Music City has seen many-a-harmonic combination in its history, but the most recent came Monday by a pair the town had never seen together before.

Behind Minnesota football senior place kicker Dan Nystrom’s Music City Bowl record five field goals and junior tight end Ben Utecht’s team-high 77 yards receiving and key touchdown, the two meshed as well on the field as they do off in Nashville.

But the combined recent play of the two hasn’t always sounded as good as they do singing the National Anthem and other songs at various functions around the Twin Cities.

While Nystrom has prospered this year – finishing the regular season 15-for-16 on field goal attempts and a perfect 40-for-40 on extra point tries – he struggled last season much like Utecht did this year nursing a stress fracture.

For both roommates to have successful showings in Nystrom’s last game was surely something special.

“The kid has a lot of character,” Utecht said of Nystrom, who was named the bowl’s MVP for his kicking performance. “He persevered through a lot here and to see him go out with this kind of success is awesome.”

Nystrom had similar praise for his good friend.

“It’s so fun to see him come out and be healthy and score some touchdowns,” he said. “It’s been rough with his foot, but he bounced back. He’s going to cap off a great career here next season.”

Nystrom, who was still wearing his game uniform and clutching his MVP trophy in the post-game interview session, leaves the Gophers as the Big Ten kick scoring leader with 367 points. He also holds the conference record for field goals made with 71. His five three pointers, 17 points and 45-yard field goal were also Music City Bowl bests.

Utecht meanwhile will enter next season just 78 receiving yards shy of 1,000 for his career. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Utecht will arguably be one of the better returning tight ends in the country.

Defensive delight (subhead) Greg Hudson thought he might be a little nervous in his first game as the team’s defensive coordinator, but once the game kicked off all butterflies had fluttered away.

“The excitement and the energy of the players overtook the nervousness,” Hudson said. “That was a good thing. This is as good as I could have hoped.”

Arkansas gained a mere 80 yards rushing in the game, a far cry from the 416 Minnesota gave up at Wisconsin to end the regular season. Much of the stoppage could be attributed to bringing safeties Eli Ward and Justin Isom closer to the line of scrimmage, forcing the corners to go man-to-man.

“We were really trying to get our base defense and giving it a little more spunk,” Hudson said. “Just to put the pressure on. We wanted to get our run support guys a little more involved. Eli’s such a hard hitter and it really helped to have him there as sort of an extra linebacker.”

The 288 total yards allowed is the fewest Minnesota has surrendered since holding Michigan State to 280 on Oct. 19 – the Gophers’ last win before Monday.

Extra points

Wide receiver Danny Upchurch hit fellow wideout Aaron Hosack for a 50-yard pass on a trick play in the first quarter. Hosack pulled his hamstring on the play and did not return.

Lehan intercepted a career-high two passes in the game, matching Ward’s team high on the season for a single game. Ward intercepted two passes at UL-Lafayette on Sept. 7.

Jermaine Mays recorded a season-high kickoff return of 44 yards in the third quarter, besting his previous best of 39 at Ohio State.