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Published: Thursday, 10/15/2009

Trying to run at MSU only gaffe in UM punter Mesko's year

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Zoltan Mesko stepped to the podium this week as several media members stepped outside the room to instead speak with another University of Michigan player.

"Everyone leaves when the punter comes in," Mesko said, laughing.

Mesko's popularity hadn't been so low since, well, the week prior when he made a critical error in judgment during an overtime loss to Michigan State. Standing in UM territory, Mesko opted against kicking the ball and instead tried to convert a first down with his feet. The end result was one of the few

failures in an otherwise spectacular career for the fifth-year senior from Twinsburg, Ohio.

But none of the blame for UM's most recent loss can be placed on Mesko, who was named the Big Ten special teams player of the week after punting five times for a whopping average of 53.8 yards in last Saturday's 30-28 loss to Iowa. It was the second best day - in terms of average - a Wolverine punter has ever produced.

"My mom called me and she made sure I knew," Mesko said of the conference accolade. "Great honor but not something I'm super happy about because the team has to do well first."

UM, which has watched its record fall to 4-2 after an undefeated September, will play host to Championship Subdivision member Delaware State at noon on Saturday. Should the Wolverine offense explode the way it's capable of against a lesser foe, Mesko could have a light day of work.

Through six games, Mesko ranks eighth in the country with 45.6 yards per punt - roughly 3.5 yards more than he averaged in 2008 when he was named to the Big Ten first team. Against Iowa, Mesko sent four of his five punts 50 yards or more, including a 61-yarder. By comparison the Hawkeyes' Ryan Donahue posted a modest 39.7 average on six tries.

"Zoltan punted the heck out of the ball," UM coach Rich Rodriguez said after the game.

Mesko's drive to deliver strongly against Iowa may have been fueled by his struggles against Michigan State. Although his mantra is to get neither too high nor too low, Mesko said the loss to the Spartans was, "one of those jump-off-a-cliff games." His decision to fake the punt - a choice bestowed upon him by the coaching staff - put the Spartans in prime position to eventually kick a field goal.

"I'm pretty good at cussing myself out," Mesko said. "I did take it hard. You have those games where it's like on a golf course - sometimes you're amazing because you get lucky and sometimes you're so bad you just want to jump off a cliff."

FORCIER UPDATE: Quarterback Tate Forcier (concussion) was expected to practice yesterday for the first time this week, a significant sign that he may be available to play Saturday.

Doctors had yet to decide whether to give Forcier medical clearance at the time Rodriguez spoke with media members. Pressed about whether Forcier would play, Rodriguez said, "I don't know. I don't want to guess."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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