Stats not clear on improvements

Minnesota’s defense could be better than last season’s, but the stats may not say so.

Matt Perkins

The Big Ten football conference is still up for grabs with Penn State and Wisconsin tied at the top, and Ohio State and Northwestern nipping at their heels.

Minnesota still stands a fighter’s chance, with perhaps its biggest contest coming this weekend when playing host to Ohio State on Saturday at the Metrodome.

But the statistics still don’t back up an argument for a much-improved team.

The Gophers defense sits statistically in the middle of the pack in points allowed per game at 25.4, and their biggest downfall has been against the run.

Minnesota is giving up, on average, 4.1 yards per carry and has allowed 12 rushing touchdowns this season.

Such a statistic can be contrasted with a positive, however, because the Gophers have given up just seven passing touchdowns, third fewest in the Big Ten.

The Gophers could have their hands full against Ohio State’s quarterback Troy Smith who, much like Penn State’s Michael Robinson, is as much a threat to break off a big run as he is to throw for yardage.

Good bye, bad bye

The Gophers head into their Saturday scuffle with the Buckeyes rested after coming off a bye week this weekend.

But heading into the bye, Gophers players were not sure whether it was helpful to have a week off after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin.

Quarterback Tony Mortensen said after the game the bye would give the team ample time to rest, something he said was a necessity.

“We definitely need the bye week to get some guys healthy and rested up,” Mortensen said.

Defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery thought otherwise, saying the Gophers needed to regroup on the field.

“I kind of wish we didn’t have a bye week now so we could get the sour taste out of our mouth sooner,” Montgomery said.

Now that the bye week is over, the Gophers look to somehow break through the seemingly impenetrable Ohio State linebacker corps.

Ohio State’s senior linebacker A.J. Hawk is one of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Hawk leads the Buckeyes with 75 tackles.

His fellow linebackers Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter rank second and third respectively on the team in tackles.

Freshman jitters

By now, everyone knows about the special teams meltdown against Wisconsin. And Gopher fans will probably never forget it.

But perhaps they should have seen it coming.

Freshman punter Justin Kucek still doesn’t have much experience under his belt.

Kucek and the Gophers have punted just 20 times this season, the lowest total in the Big Ten. Kucek also has the second-worst net average with 29.3 yards per punt.

The other half of Minnesota’s special teams duo, Jason Giannini, went through similar struggles, missing five extra points early this season. But Giannini bounced back and has nailed 12 of 15 field goal attempts including the game winner at Michigan.

Now the Gophers hope to see a similar rebound performance from Kucek.

With Ohio State’s defense lurking just around the corner, Kucek can expect to see a lot of action this weekend.

And if Minnesota hopes to win the war, it had better win the battles, specifically the battle for field position.

Cupito expected to play

Junior quarterback Bryan Cupito is expected to be ready to play against Ohio State on Saturday, Mason said after the Wisconsin game.

In fact, he could have gone against Wisconsin.

“Even though Cupito was cleared to play by our staff, I made the decision on Tuesday to go with Mortensen,” Mason said. “We expect to have Cupito back for Ohio State.”

Game time announced

Minnesota’s Nov. 5 game at Indiana will begin at 11 a.m., the Big Ten Conference announced Monday. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Tennis results

Minnesota men’s tennis player Nic Edlefsen was knocked out of the men’s singles draw in the ITA Midwest Regional in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Monday, falling to the 21st seed, Nick Rinks of Michigan State, in three sets, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Edlefsen entered the draw unseeded and unranked nationally.

Minnesota women’s tennis player Nischella Reddy – ranked 86th in the country – also lost in the quarterfinals of the singles draw at the ITA Midwest Regional on Monday.

She fell to the 50th-ranked player in the nation, Alexis Prousis, in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.

Volleyball rankings fall

Minnesota’s volleyball team fell to 18th in the coaches’ poll released Monday.

Ranked 12th last week, the Gophers went 0-2 this weekend, losing straight game matches to No. 19 Ohio State and No. 3 Penn State at the Sports Pavilion.