Though it often doesn’t get much recognition, the special teams unit is a crucial part of any football team that can often be the difference between a win or a loss.
Perhaps the most significant area of interest for Wisconsin Badgers fans on special teams will be on kickoff and punt returns, where senior wide receiver Kenzel Doe is slated to handle both roles. Doe was impressive on kick returns in 2013, ranking 19th in the country and second in the Big Ten with an average of 26.45 yards per kick return. He returned one kick for a touchdown last season, a 91-yard sprint in the fourth quarter of the Capital One Bowl that cut South Carolina’s lead to three and kept the Badgers’ hopes of a win alive.
But while he’s been stellar returning kicks, his punt returning has been a different story.
Despite showing flashes of brilliance returning punts, including an 82-yard touchdown against Gary Andersen’s Utah State in 2012, Doe has struggled with muffing punts. His struggles led to Jared Abbrederis being put back as the punt return man in 2013, but now Doe will once again get the job with Abbrederis gone. If Doe continues to struggle at field punts, it wouldn’t be surprising to see speedy freshman wide receiver Natrell Jamerson get a chance as UW’s return man.
Another position of interest on special teams this spring was at kicker, where the Badgers have struggled over the past several years. Wisconsin ranked dead last in the Big Ten in field goal accuracy in 2012 and 10th in 2013, and hasn’t finished in the top five in that category since 2008.
Kyle French, who is no longer with the team, and Jack Russell have both been underwhelming over the past couple years, leaving an uneasy feeling in the stomachs of Badgers fans everywhere whenever they lined up for a field goal attempt.
Luckily, Wisconsin may have a savior at kicker, and his name is Rafael Gaglianone.
A freshman who grew up playing soccer in Brazil, Gaglianone is a kicker with a big leg and an equally big personality. Wisconsin special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk fought hard with the NCAA to get Gaglianone eligible, and it seems to be paying off.
On the first day of fall camp, Gaglianone confidently told head coach Gary Andersen that he wouldn’t miss any of his kicks, and proceeded to make all five of his field goals. He’s outplayed both Russell and sophomore Andrew Endicott to earn the starting spot and could end up being the answer to the Badgers’ problems at kicker.
Lastly for the Wisconsin special teams unit is the position of punter, where Drew Meyer will once again be the starter.
The 2014 season will be Meyer’s third as the starting punter for the Badgers, where he’ll look to get back to his freshman form.
In 2012, Meyer 41.5 yards per punt attempt and pinned 45 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, but those numbers dropped to 38.6 and 36 percent, respectively, during his sophomore season. Despite, this slight drop off, Meyer still was an effective punter for Wisconsin in 2013 and there’s no reason to expect him not to be this year as well.
If Meyer stays effective, Doe improves in his punt returns and Gaglianone lives up to the hype, special teams could end of being an area of strength for the Badgers in 2014.