At practice on Tuesday, I was watching Dan Orseske boom punts 50-60-70 yards in the air, and I got a feel for Jeff Horton's frustration with the punting game. Sure, there was a little breeze behind him, but Orseske was kicking the ball so high, his teammates began cheering some of the longest ones.
So where is that guy on Saturday?
Orseske has been a disappointment this season, though that's probably not too surprising considering how former coach Tim Brewster hyped his ability after recruiting the Chicago native to Minnesota and watching similar displays on the practice field. Yet the Gophers rank last in punting in the Big Ten this season, and it's not because of coverage. Orseske has mis-kicked a punt in nearly every game. His average is 30.1 yards, or almost 10 yards less than Illinois.
That has a big effect on a game; Michigan State had a pair of scoring drives that started inside Minnesota territory after punts last week. "When you're trying to get 70, 80 yards (on a drive) all the time, and the other team has 50, 45, that's a big difference," Horton said. "You always feel like you're backed up."
Horton said Orseske has the same problem he has with his golf swing.
"I hit great drives on the driving range. When I step on the first tee, I shank the you-know-what out of them," Horton said. "Why can't I carry it from the driving range over? Obviously, I'm not mentally tough enough enough. I just get the yips or don't trust my swing."
To be fair, Orseske is a redshirt freshman, a teen-ager still learning the job and the league. He's had two punts blocked, which will give anybody the yips. The Gophers tried to adjust by having Orseske punt rugby-style the past couple of games, where he takes a few steps to the side and kicks on the run, but the results have been even worse. And watching him yesterday, as soon as the Gophers switched from straight-ahead punting to the rugby kicks, Orseske shanked one to the right.
"When you're in that type of punt formation, you move away from pressure, do different things to change it up," Horton said. "We're able to execute it in practice."
Still, the biggest adjustment, he said, will come as Orseske gets older and more experienced. "You can't overanalyze it. Go out there and try to make it as natural as possible," he said. "Hopefully good things will happen."