Gophers interim coach Tracy Claeys on Sunday stood by his decision not to use All-Big Ten punter Peter Mortell for a key punt in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 29-26 loss to Michigan.
The Gophers led 26-21 with about nine minutes remaining, when Claeys inserted Ryan Santoso for his first career punt. He was standing in the end zone, with the ball at the 11-yard line, and his punt went out of bounds at the Minnesota 40. That set up Michigan’s go-ahead touchdown.
Mortell was seen in sweatpants on the sideline, but Claeys said the decision wasn’t injury-related.
“[Mortell] did have a leg injury the previous week, but he punted all this week,” Claeys said. “The reason we changed is off his [second] punt, he didn’t put the ball where he’s supposed to. It’s been a problem.”
Claeys said the team practiced all week on matching the coverage to the punt placement. When Jabrill Peppers had his 41-yard punt return in the second quarter, Mortell’s kick was low and to the wrong side of the field, away from the coverage.
Mortell had two more punts — one for a touchback and one that pinned Michigan at its 8-yard line. Peppers also had a 43-yard return on one of Santoso’s kickoffs.
“When you look at the film, there’s always going to be things that happen offensively and defensively,” Claeys said. “They got us in special teams off the [kickoff] and punt return. That’s what ended up costing us the football game.”
Kill’s health improves
In an interview with WCCO (830 AM), Jerry Kill said he continued to have seizures after announcing his retirement Wednesday. But he said he was feeling better and didn’t have any seizures Friday and Saturday. Kill, 54, made it clear he won’t coach again and said he’s still not sure what he will do next.
Claeys shows patience
Claeys told WCCO he understands the university President Eric Kaler and interim athletic director Beth Goetz need to go through a process before picking a permanent replacement for Kill.
“I want them to feel good that I am the right person for the job,” Claeys said. “It has to be a two-way street in order for it to work. So hopefully they’ll work through that process as quick as they can. And obviously the quicker it gets done, it does help recruiting.”