Redshirt freshman kickers buoy Minnesota special teams in college debuts

by David McCoy

All spring, all summer and all fall, Minnesota football coach Glen Mason said he couldn’t give a fair assessment of his new kicker Jason Giannini and punter Justin Kucek.

The pair took over this year for Rhys Lloyd, who handled both duties last year.

And in their first collegiate action, both shined. Giannini hit both of his field goal attempts – 28 and 23 yards – and Kucek’s first punt was 55 yards and downed on Tulsa’s 5-yard line and another to the 18, averaging 39 yards on three punts.

“The difference is, I’m probably 80 yards away from them during the game,” Mason said. “I think I have a negative effect on them.”

Giannini also made all four of his point after attempts, with Joel Monroe nailing the fifth – something even Lloyd struggled with at times last year.

And while Minnesota’s punt coverage was stellar, it was a whole different story on punt returns.

Dominic Jones debuted as the Gophers’ punt returner, but let the first two bounce away, fumbled the third – which led to Tulsa’s first score of the game, a 46-yard Brad DeVault field goal – and fair-caught another that probably could have been returned.

The Gophers also held Hurricane kickoff returner Ashlan Davis, who set an NCAA record last year with five kick returns for touchdowns, to just 131 yards on seven returns. Mason also praised kickoff returner Jakari Wallace for his 80-yard effort on three returns.

“You’ve got to be impressed with the play of little Jakari Wallace,” Mason said. “He’s also the best tackler on our football team.”

Late game

The start of Thursday’s game was delayed to 9:33 p.m. by the late finish of the game between Oregon and Houston.

The network also didn’t cut away from that game when Minnesota and Tulsa kicked off, and even missed Maroney’s 67-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.

The game ended at 12:58 a.m. Friday. Interestingly, Mason was seen checking his watch as he walked to the middle of the field to shake hands at the end of the game.

Red zone scoring

Minnesota scored on four of five red zone opportunities, with the only miss coming on Bryan Cupito’s interception on first down on Tulsa’s 13-yard line.

But Mason said he was not pleased with the team’s red zone offense.

Maroney moving up

Maroney’s two touchdowns are his fifth and sixth 50-plus yard touchdown runs of his career.

He also tied Thomas Tapeh for fifth on the Gophers’ all-time touchdown list with 24. Maroney also had his 14th 100-yard rushing game, tying Marion Barber III.