The special teams has really been the only “problem” with Wisconsin football this year.
The punting has left something to be desired and Anthony Lotti has not taken a step forward we all hoped he would have. This year, he has appeared in four games and has punted an average of 40.9 yards per punt, which is not even in the top 100 eligible punters in the nation. This may be one of the reasons Chryst has been more willing to go for a conversion on 4th down, rather than punt.
Collin Larsh has also struggled a bit as the placekicker this season. He is just 2 of 5 for field goals but 29 of 30 for extra points. Luckily for him, the team has been so good this year that they haven’t had a high-pressure situation for him to kick in, but that can also provide a negative. If the time comes where Wisconsin needs him to hit an important field goal, can he do it?
The kickoff situation has been the highlight of special teams. Zach Hintze has been an absolute machine. It feels like every time he is kicking the ball on kickoffs, it is going out the back of the endzone, even when they are backed up on their own 20-yard line.
The return game for this Wisconsin football team has also been somewhat ineffective. Aron Cruickshank hasn’t had much of a chance to return kicks this year because the defense has been so good at keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard.
Jack Dunn is the punt returner. He’s not necessarily a weapon returning punts, but he is generally pretty reliable. He has, however, struggled a little in the past couple of games bobbling the ball. Something to keep an eye on.
The Spartans have had one of the better punters in the nation this season. Jake Hartbarger has been punting the ball long distances. He has been averaging 47.6 yards per punt this season, good for 9th in the country, with the longest punt of 61 yards. He has, however, not put any inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Matt Coghlin has the kicking duties. He has had an up and down season as well. He has hit 11 of his 17 attempts, which is just 65 percent. He has hit from as far as 47 yards. He is also perfect on extra points, hitting all 18 attempts.
Receiver Darrell Stewart has returned six kicks this year for 133 yards, an average of 22.2 yards per return.
Neither of these teams has an exceptional return game, but with the experience at kicker and punter, Michigan State definitely has the advantage in this phase of the game.