Utecht getting his kicks as first-string punter

Brett Angel

Ben Utecht has been showcasing his talent in the Gophers’ passing game for years. But Saturday night the tight end, named a 2003 preseason All-American by Athlon and College Football News, displayed his versatility and talent by contributing elsewhere on the football field.

For the first time in his collegiate career, Utecht now doubles as the starting tight end on offense and first-string punter on Minnesota’s special teams.

In Saturday’s season opener against Tulsa, Utecht hauled in two passes for 51 yards and punted three times.

His third and final punt was a high, spiraling kick that flew 47 yards before being caught by Jermaine Landrum. He also landed one kick inside the Tulsa 10-yard line.

“He’s got a strong leg,” Minnesota football coach Glen Mason said.

Utecht, who was an all-state punter in his high school days in Hastings, Minn., beat out Mark Rivers and Dan Ness for the punting duties despite not having the benefits of regular practice. Because of his commitments at tight end, Utecht rarely gets time to fine-tune his kicking on a daily basis.

“If he wouldn’t have been able to be a good football player at another position, we probably could have made a heck of a punter out of him,” Mason said.

The numbers game

After watching the videotape from Saturday’s victory over Tulsa, Mason expressed further concern with the number of penalties the Gophers committed Saturday.

Minnesota’s offense was flagged for seven penalties – three false starts and four holding calls – in its season opener. The Gophers also had touchdowns of 34 and 41 yards called back on account of penalties.

And this time, the guilty players had no place to hide.

The officiating crew working Saturday’s game was from the Western Athletic Conference, which has decided to announce jersey numbers along with penalties. Traditionally, only the penalty and the team committing the infraction are named in collegiate football games.

“I was under the assumption that wasn’t done in college, but it’s done by some conferences,” Mason said. “I kept going to the official asking, ‘Who was it?’ I didn’t catch that they were announcing the numbers.”

Big Ten officials, who will officiate this Saturday’s game against Troy State and all conference games once the Big Ten season begins Sept. 27, will retain the standard routine of announcing penalties without jersey numbers.

“I don’t know why we don’t do it,” Mason said. “I’ve always heard the argument that we don’t want to embarrass the player, but they do it in basketball.

“If a guy gets called for holding, he ought to get embarrassed.”

A dominating ‘D’

When asked how he would evaluate nose tackle Anthony Montgomery’s performance against Tulsa, Mason was emphatic.

“I thought he was dominant,” Mason said. “He’ll be a dominant player. That (Tulsa) center had a long night against him.”

Montgomery, who finished the season opener with eight tackles – two for losses – wasn’t the only member of the Gophers defense drawing praise from Mason.

He also mentioned Darrell Reid (6-2, 270), Dan Kwapinski (6-5, 275), Mark Losli (6-6, 275) and Scott Stephenson (6-3, 290) as big bodies who will play a vital role to the team’s defensive success this season.

Clarett held out of practice

Still awaiting a decision regarding the length of running back Maurice Clarett’s expected suspension, Ohio State football coach Jim

Tressel announced Tuesday that Clarett would no longer practice with the team until the matter is resolved.

“It appears to me without having seen anything official or any black-and-white indications that the suspension is going to be, you know, significant,” Tressel said. “It’s going to be long.”

Initially, Tressel decided to let Clarett practice against the first-team defense as a member of the scout team but changed his mind after meeting with his coaching staff Tuesday morning.

“Until we get a definitive decision, I don’t think I’m going to have him practice,” Tressel said. “I think that’s just what’s best to do right now and don’t feel it’s appropriate to talk about it beyond that.”

Clarett is still awaiting word from the NCAA and Ohio State regarding his involvement in possible academic fraud.

He set school records as a freshman last season by rushing for 1,237 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns during the Buckeyes’ 14-0 national championship run.

Big Ten lands six in polls

One week into the season, the Big Ten has the most teams ranked in the top 25 of any conference in the country.

Six teams from the Big Ten cracked the latest edition of the

ESPN/USA Today poll, the most in nearly three years.

The conference is represented by No. 2 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan, No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 20 Purdue, No. 23 Iowa and No. 25 Penn State.

Iowa and Penn State did not crack the top 25 in the Associated Press poll.

“It’s amazing to me how it swings,” Mason said. “A year ago we were all being asked what happened to the Big Ten.”

Crimson in the face

While speaking about Minnesota’s upcoming game against Troy State during Saturday’s post-game news conference, Mason said his team should be wary of the Trojans, especially after Troy State’s recent victory over Alabama.

On Tuesday, Mason corrected himself, clarifying that it was Alabama State, not the storied Alabama Crimson Tide that Troy State defeated a few years back.

The Trojans did post an impressive 21-9 win on the road against Mississippi State on Oct. 13, 2001. They almost pulled off an upset again last season, narrowly losing 11-8 to the Bulldogs.