Gophers’ punting situation is still up in the air

Aaron Blake

Minnesota football freshman punter Mark Rivers might have gotten just the chance he needed to take over first-string punting duties from tight end Ben Utecht on Saturday.

Utecht was unable to perform at either of his positions in the Gophers’ 48-7 victory over Troy State. Utecht sat out the game with a hip strain.

“I don’t know who our punter will be this week,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “We’ve got to see how they do in practice. I’ve watched (Rivers) in practice, and he’s gotten better. During warm-ups, he was booming them.”

Mason had declared Utecht the team’s punter in the week before the team’s season opener against Tulsa. In that contest, the former All-State punter at Hastings booted the ball three times for an average of 38 yards, including a 32-yard pooch punt inside the Hurricane 10-yard line.

Rivers punted twice for an average of 42.5 yards against Troy State.

Apparently, that showed Mason enough to lead to a reassessment of the team’s punting situation.

Tressel would urge release

The Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday he would recommend running back Maurice Clarett be granted a release by the athletics department to transfer to another school if he was to ask for one.

“(I) don’t anticipate that he will be back this season,” Tressel said prior to his comments about a potential release.

Tressel also said he hasn’t seen Clarett working out around the team or at the team’s 16-13 win over San Diego State on Saturday. When asked whether Clarett could return next season, Tressel said he couldn’t answer the question.

In addition, Clarett was charged with a misdemeanor Tuesday for falsifying a theft report. The charge is directly related to his suspension from the football team.

Tressel said he had no knowledge of Clarett being charged when he made his statement about a possible release.

“The coaching staff and the team are resigned to the fact that we don’t have him, and we won’t have him,” Tressel said. “We have been trying to put every ounce of our energy and thoughts and everything else into preparing for Washington, San Diego State and now North Carolina State.”

Coach’s conduct probed

The Air Force Academy has supplied game tapes to the Mountain West Conference office, the Big Ten office, and Northwestern so Saturday’s incident between Falcon quarterback Chance Harridge and a Wildcat assistant coach can be reviewed.

The academy said in a release Monday that after Harridge was tackled and fumbled the football near the Northwestern sideline in the Falcons’ 22-21 victory

Saturday, the unnamed assistant coach struck him with his left forearm or elbow on the playing field. The release also said Harridge retaliated by punching the assistant in the side.

While not pardoning Harridge for his conduct, Air Force director of athletics Col. Randy Spetman said that “his reaction was an instinctive one.”

Northwestern head coach Randy Walker responded to the situation Tuesday.

“I’d be happy to share that film with anybody that wants to see it,” Walker said. “We have a coach that’s excited, and we just get a big turnover in the game. He runs on the field and jumps and hugs one of our players. He makes incidental contact with Chance that was not intended. It was not even directed at Chance. But he did brush up against Chance, and there was a punch thrown.

“I can’t believe (Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry) would look at that and believe it.”

A Big Ten official’s report said Chance was ejected from the game, not for punching the coach, but for a flagrant personal foul instead. He will play Saturday versus North Texas.

Evans honored for return

Wisconsin senior wide receiver Lee Evans was named the Big Ten offensive player of the week just two weeks into his comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament which sidelined him for all of 2002.

Evans caught nine passes for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Badgers 48-31 win over Akron on Saturday. His 99-yard touchdown catch set a school record and tied an NCAA record.

The wideout underwent two surgeries in 2002 – one May 22 and one Nov. 22 – after tearing the ligaments in his knee during Wisconsin’s spring game in April 2002.

Evans caught 75 balls for 1,545 yards and nine scores and earned second-team All-America honors in 2001. He was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to college football’s top receiver.

“Lee Evans had a tremendous game,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said. “It’s nice to see him come back and perform at the level that he had before injuring himself a year and a half ago.”

“My only concern coming into the season was how long he would take to overcome any hesitation mentally. We knew that he had all the strength back in his leg. Ö But we didn’t hit him during camp and you just wondered mentally if he would have any reservations. It didn’t take long to find out that he didn’t.”