Kicker and punter ready to get back on field for bowl

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s football team’s kicker and punter struggled at times this season, looking like shaky freshmen who were thrown into Big Ten football.

That’s because they are freshmen.

First-year Gophers Jason Giannini and Justin Kucek had their ups and downs, remembering more of the downs, and as they prepare for the Music City Bowl, they both may be trying to reaffirm their status as starters.

“I knew there would be obstacles to face; there always are,” Kucek said. “But we stayed mentally solid through it and we’re still standing.”

Kucek does still stand as the Gophers punter after his fumble-fingers against Wisconsin, but the same can’t be said for his kicking mate.

Giannini is kicking and screaming for his job.

“I have to work hard in practice because I don’t know if the job is mine anymore,” Giannini said. “But it’s all about getting up and trying to do your job the best you can.”

Giannini hasn’t brought his best game to the table consistently for the Gophers this season.

Through the Gophers first three games, Giannini was perfect on his five field goal attempts, but was 14-of-19 on extra points.

Then, over the Gophers next five games, Giannini was perfect on 16 extra points, but was 8-of-12 on field goal attempts.

At Indiana Giannini had arguably his worst day, making just two of four on extra points and missing his only field goal attempt.

Kucek’s performance has been just as inconsistent.

Kucek has three punts this season of more than 50 yards and six inside the 20-yard line, but ranks in the bottom half of the conference in punting average, at 39.6 yards per punt.

And when the Gophers take on Virginia on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn., it will have been two months since Kucek had a punt of 50 yards or more, and the same amount of time since Giannini last made a field goal.

But both Kucek and Giannini said that being thrown into the fire early in their career was exactly how they wanted it.

“It’s exactly what I wanted to do,” Giannini said. “I didn’t want to have to sit on the sidelines and watch. I wanted to be out there.”

Coach Glen Mason said there are “no set starters” for the Gophers’ bowl game, so Giannini and Kucek will have to earn their roles like they did at the beginning of the year.

And for as many questions as Mason had about the kicking game at the start of the season, he has just as many at the end.

“When you have freshman kickers you don’t know what to expect,” Mason said. “So I guess that’s the expectation ” there aren’t any.”