Gophers football’s punter Mark Crawford and special teams shine in rainy victory over Purdue

Sophomore Mark Crawford had an outstanding day punting the ball in Minnesota’s win against Purdue on Saturday.

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Sophomore punter Mark Crawford ready to hold for Matthew Trickett’s kick, Sept. 18, 2021, at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo. Photo courtesy of Gopher Athletics.

Tony Liebert

A victory is not always pretty, and that was certainly the case for the Gophers against the Boilermakers on Saturday. After being outgained 290 total yards to 434, a great performance from the Gophers’ special teams unit and punting game was instrumental in their 20-13 victory.

“You have to have loss to have winning, and you have to be able to respect losing to win,” Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said leading up to the game. “Our team, they’ve won games they’re not supposed to, they’ve lost games they’re supposed to win and everything in between.”

Sophomore punter Mark Crawford had his best game in a Gophers uniform against the Boilermakers, and he was the leader of Minnesota’s “ugly” win. He had six punts for an average of 51.3 yards each, four of which placed Purdue inside of its own 15-yard line, once at the two, once at the nine and twice at the 15-yard line.

“It was a strange sort of thing, with the weather it was super important to stay locked into the moment and work on the fundamentals,” Crawford said. “Our coach always says you get exposed in wet weather or your fundamentals come through and shine.”

Of Crawford’s six punts, he had two career-best distances from 60 yards, along with a 58-yarder. All three are in the top 20 longest punts in the Big Ten this season. His punting played an instrumental role in putting Purdue’s defense in unfavorable positions all game.

Punting is a play in football that is viewed as a negative, but the Gophers used Crawford to their advantage Saturday. Pinning Purdue deep in its own territory made life much easier on Minnesota’s defense, often forcing the opposition to drive 85 yards or more down the field hoping to score, making life very hard on Purdue’s offense.

“It’s tough conditions and you know it’s gonna be a low scoring game, and I thought our defense made it a low scoring game, that is a high powered offense,” Fleck said after the game.

Also serving as the team’s holder, Crawford and the Gophers’ place kicking unit had a perfect day. Senior Matthew Trickett converted both of his extra points, and both of his field goals from 38 and 42 yards away, respectively, while junior long snapper Brady Weeks, who happens to be roommates with Mark Crawford, had a great day snapping the ball as well.

“He [Trickett] is really awesome, very mature, lots of leadership and takes things seriously when he has to take it seriously,” Crawford said. “As for Brady [Weeks], he is an awesome person, he’s a funny guy and snaps really good footballs as well.”

Gophers sophomore punter Mark Crawford draped in the flag of his native country, Australia. Photo courtesy of Gopher Athletics.

Crawford’s superb performance didn’t go unnoticed, earning him Big Ten Co-Special Teams player of the week. It’s the Gophers’ first league honor on special teams since holder Casey O’Brien was awarded in October of 2019 and the first punter with a weekly conference honor since Peter Mortell, who was recognized on Nov. 11, 2013.

Hailing from Perth West, Australia, Crawford has had quite the journey to Minnesota. He began his sporting journey playing Aussie rules football, which can be compared to a mixture of rugby and cricket. When he was 17 years old, he began to specialize in cricket, specifically.

After seeing a local athlete from his hometown, Max Duffy, join the Kentucky football team as a punter, Crawford thought he would give the American rules of football a try.

In 2019, he moved to Melbourne and joined Prokick Australia, which has become a training ground for the best kickers and punters from Australia to train and get noticed by American programs. Crawford would eventually get noticed by the University of Minnesota, and he fell in love with the Gophers.

“I never really lived in snow, so it has been a nice change up for me,” Crawford said. “It’s been awesome learning new perspectives and this new environment, and obviously, the food; everyone loves burgers here, so that’s nice.”

Now 27 years old, Crawford has settled into his second season with the Gophers, and he is beginning to show his complete skill set.

“Every now and then I’ll get called fossil, but other than that it’s all good fun,” Crawford said.