December 19, 2008

UW needs big special teams performance against FSU

MADISON, Wis. - Of all the disappointing aspects of the Wisconsin football season in 2008, special team flaws may have been the most frustrating. The Badgers did right its four-game mid-season losing streak with three straight wins to close out the regular season, but it will need to perform better on special teams against Florida State if any hopes of a Champs Sports Bowl title will be reached.

Overall, UW's highest conference standing of any special teams unit is field goals made where freshman All-American Philip Welch connected on 18-of-22 attempts for the year. Otherwise, the Badgers are at best, a middle of the pack team in every remaining special team category and sit dead last in kickoff returns and 10th out of 11 in kickoff coverage in the Big Ten.

Those are not good signs for the Badgers as they prepare to take on FSU. The Seminoles feature the Lou Groza award winner in Graham Gano and all-ACC kick returner Michael Ray Garvin. If UW fails to improve its coverage on kickoffs, FSU will have a field day against the Badgers.

"They've actually had a variety of guys back there," UW head and special teams coach Bret Bielema said. "There's been a couple that have gotten outside, but he's (Garvin) done some good things up the middle so they're very dangerous."

On the season, the Badgers have only averaged a net of 41.2 yards per kickoff on 67 attempts. Combine that with the fact that Garvin led the ACC with an explosive 32.8 yards per return average including a long of 94 and a touchdown, the outlook is anything but bright for UW.

Instead, the Badgers are focusing on ways to improve its return coverage game as well as figuring ways to be more productive returning kicks themselves.

"If there was one easy answer we would be able to try and get it fixed," Bielema said. "You know, a little bit early in the year, there were actually kicks where they (opponents) were sky kicking because we had success. But really, just constant changing of personnel.

"There's kind of personnel issues offensively and defensively where the guy that gets affected the most is the special teams because once something changes from an offensive standpoint, defensive standpoint, then that affects the special teams with just a little bit of inconsistency of personnel."

Combining UW's struggles defending kickoffs and Florida State's excellent field goal kicker and returner, the Seminoles would not need to move the ball very far on a given possession in order to be in scoring position. And once in scoring position, Gano is nearly automatic.

"He's been very accurate from all angles" Bielema said. "The part that probably jumps out to me about him is his operation time is very good. People aren't even getting close to getting a hand on the football and he's very very accurate."

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