Heisman hopeful Kittner can’t solve Gophers ‘D’

John R. Carter

Following the tradition of building as much preseason hype as possible for a Heisman Trophy candidate, Illinois’ football program made posters and notebooks to promote senior quarterback Kurt Kittner.

Kittner’s numbers the past three seasons back up the school’s claim for his worthiness of the most prestigious individual award in college football.

Through 31 games over his first three seasons, Kittner has thrown for 5,466 yards and 43 touchdowns. In just four games this season, Kittner has added another 1,083 yards and six scores.

The senior is fourth on the school’s all-time list in passing yards and second in touchdowns thrown.

Being remembered for generations as one of the top quarterbacks in Illinois history is inevitable. But when it comes down to his performances against Minnesota, even hype couldn’t save Kittner.

After two career games versus the Gophers, the Heisman candidate’s picture was more suited for a dartboard than a billboard.

Kittner is a combined 32 of 79 for just 283 yards, with two interceptions and only one touchdown against the Gophers.

Minnesota’s defense has had a field day stopping Kittner the past two seasons, holding the Illini to 17 total points. In 1999 the Gophers sacked Kittner four times.

Last year, the Gophers were all over Kittner’s passes, deflecting seven balls. Five alone were swatted by tackle Matt Anderle.

“They were just getting up in my face,” Kittner said. “It’s tough to complete balls when they’re getting knocked down all the time.”

On Saturday, the Gophers defense will try and dominate all over again. Kittner, however, plans to use his past experience – and veteran-style patience – to reverse the trend.

“I’m not going to force balls down field or anywhere,” Kittner said. “I’m just going to make sure I make good quick decisions and get the ball out of my hands to prevent sacks and loss of yardage.”

 

Mason still angry

Gophers coach Glen Mason watched the video replays from Saturday’s controversial loss to Purdue, which included the Boilermakers last-second field goal and Minnesota’s non-touchdown call in overtime.

Asked if Mason’s viewing of the tapes changed his mind about the call, Mason said: “Nope, it reinforced it.”

Mason also said he made a call into the Big Ten offices to express his concern with the officiating.

“They heard from me,” Mason said.

An assistant for David M. Parry, the conference’s coordinator for officials, said Parry was reviewing tapes from all Big Ten games on Monday – a weekly practice. Parry did not return calls Monday.

Nystrom missing it

After kicking the winning field goal to beat then No. 2 Penn State two years ago, and leading the Big Ten in scoring (109 points) last season, Gophers kicker Dan Nystrom has been brutal in 2001.

Nystrom, who Mason said had a great spring practice, has hit only three of eight attempts this season. He missed two, from 40 and 32 yards, against Purdue.

Mason didn’t say Nystrom is out of a job yet, but he did say his field goal kicker needs to get back on track.

“We need to improve our kicking game, let’s just leave it at that,” Mason said.

Mason added that the snaps and holds have been good.

Big Ten players of week

After the Boilermakers dramatic come-from-behind win, three Purdue players were recognized as players of the week.

Quarterback Brandon Hance, who was 22 of 36 for 306 yards, was named co-offensive player of the week with Northwestern signal caller Zak Kustok.

Strong safety Stuart Schweigert was named defensive player of the week for his efforts. Schweigert had 13 tackles, one forced fumble, one pass break up and the game saving interception in overtime.

Kicker Travis Dorsch took co-special teams player of the week honors with the Wildcats’ David Wasielewski. Dorsch hit the game tying 48-yard field, his career high, with :01 left in regulation to send the game into overtime.

John R. Carter covers football and
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