Reliable special teams falters

Also, Hoese helps comeback effort.

Austin Cumblad

On both offense and defense in 2009, Minnesota has generally been a model of inconsistency. Perhaps the GophersâÄô only stable unit has been special teams. When it struggled on Saturday against Illinois, you knew it was going to be an especially bad day. Junior kicker Eric Ellestad is 8-of-10 on field goals and perfect on extra points in 2009 . He hit clutch kicks against Syracuse and Air Force early in the season. But Saturday he hit two kicks out of bounds, one of which was just after Minnesota trimmed the deficit to three and gave the Illini the ball at the 40 with 9:13 remaining in the game. They proceeded to march 60 yards in eight plays to again make the lead double digits. Late in the second quarter, senior punter Blake Haudan rocketed the ball off the side of his foot, resulting in a 22-yard punt. With 2:13 remaining in the half, Illinois took over at the Minnesota 39 and scored once more to put the Gophers in a 21-point hole to start the third quarter. Hoese jumpstarts fourth quarter Prior to his pair of 1-yard touchdown runs in MinnesotaâÄôs Insight Bowl loss to Kansas last December, junior Jon Hoese was a generally unknown man. ThatâÄôs how it usually is for a fullback in a spread offense. When the Gophers switched to a multi-set offense for the 2009 season, HoeseâÄôs role increased while remaining largely unheralded. Through nine games, he had just 12 carries and six receptions; no touchdowns. Against Illinois, however, another pair of Hoese touchdowns early in the fourth quarter nearly brought Minnesota back from a 28-7 halftime deficit to surprise the Illini. A 10-yard catch just over a minute into the fourth was HoeseâÄôs first career-receiving touchdown (and just the third touchdown of his career). Less than five minutes later, he added a 3-yard run, and after a successful 2-point conversion, Minnesota pulled within three. Eskridge returns after two games without a carry On Saturday, sophomore running back DeLeon Eskridge recorded his first carry since the third quarter against Penn State on Oct. 17. He was part of a moderately successful Gophers running attack, averaging 4.3 yards on nine carries for 39 yards. Minnesota has been employing a running back by committee approach for most of the season but was especially balanced in terms of carries against the Illini. Kevin Whaley led the team with 41 yards on eight carries, followed by Eskridge, Hoese (five for 17 yards) and Duane Bennett (four for 15). A year ago, Eskridge torched a porous Illinois run defense for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Carter doesnâÄôt play Brewster said Tuesday that freshman cornerback Michael Carter, who was arrested early last Monday for obstructing the legal process and minor consumption, would not be suspended and the matter would be handled internally. But Carter did not see any time on the field Saturday against Illinois; he had played in MinnesotaâÄôs nine previous games this season.