Special teams miscues nearly cost Gophers

Kicker Jason Giannini missed all three of his field goal attempts Saturday.

by Brian Deutsch

When Minnesota football coach Tim Brewster was hired during the offseason, he was able to make several changes to the program.

He brought in a brand new coaching staff with a new system. He had the football complex remodeled to instill program history and pride in his players.

But Brewster was forced to inherit one relic from the Glen Mason era, an up-and-down, hit-and-miss special teams unit.

The first-year coach saw just how down his team can get during Saturday’s 41-35 triple overtime win.

Junior Justin Kucek had one of his punts blocked by the RedHawks and recovered by redshirt freshman Peris Edwards on the Gophers’ 31-yard line.

Miami was able to capitalize on the play when sophomore placekicker Trevor Cook hit a 34-yard field goal to cut away at the early lead.

But Cook struggled as well Saturday, going 3-5 on field goals and missing an extra point.

The sophomore had been tagged as a potential Lou Groza award winner, but missing three kicks that could have handed Minnesota its second consecutive loss to a MAC opponent might have spoiled Cook’s chances.

“We’re going to play a lot of games like this,” Miami coach Shane Montgomery said. “There are no moral victories, but we had a chance to win and have to find a way to get over the hump and win games like these.”

The complete collapse of special teams play came to a head in the second overtime after Minnesota’s drive stalled on the RedHawks nine-yard line.

After missing field goals of 45 and 43 yards earlier in the game, kicker Jason Giannini could have redeemed himself by hitting a 26-yard chip shot.

However, the junior was unable to convert the kick, seemingly dashing Minnesota’s chances of picking up a win it desperately needed.

“I’m a special teams guy, and I spend a tremendous amount of time on special teams,” Brewster said. “I’m very disappointed when special teams are not a factor to really help us.”

Five plays later, the remaining fans who had stayed to watch the Gophers squander a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter were forced to watch as Cook lined up for a potential game-winning kick from the 15-yard line.

But Cook sent his kick wide right, forcing Minnesota yet again to find a new way to earn its first win of the Brewster era.

“I jumped a bit early and pushed it wide right,” Cook said. “It was just a mental breakdown that cost us the game.”

After senior safety Jamal Harris ended Miami’s next drive with an interception, senior running back Amir Pinnix saved Brewster and Minnesota fans from further heart damage by scoring with a two-yard carry on third down that kept the field goal team on the sideline.

While the team will savor the win, Brewster is already looking at next weekend against Florida Atlantic where the heat and wind will make special teams even more difficult.

Quote of the Game

Coach Tim Brewster’s thoughts about what he felt after his team went scoreless in the second overtime and Miami (Ohio) had a chance to win it: “I was thinking we just have to find a way to win,” Brewster said. “Maybe we’ll get some luck. Last week the luck went to Bowling Green. Tipped balls went their way. I think we were due for some luck, and we got some when they missed that field goal.”
– Coach Tim Brewster

Personnel-wise, Brewster will have to decide whether to stick with Giannini or turn over the placekicking duties to junior Joel Monroe for next weekend.

Monroe already handles kickoffs for the Gophers and replaced Giannini last season for the Texas Tech game, where he converted all seven of his extra-point attempts.

“We’re going to get that fixed, and we are going to get a guy out there that we think can hit field goals inside the 40,” Brewster said. “We’re definitely discussing it.”