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    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Breaking Down The Badgers: Special Teams

    Having covered the kicking game separately in a previous post, the rest of the special teams unit for the Wisconsin Badgers stacks up like this in the Big Ten Conference stats:

    Kickoff returns- Wisconsin ranks at the bottom at #11.

    Opponent kickoff returns- Wisconsin ranks #6.

    Punt returns- The Badgers rank #6.

    Opponent punt returns
    - The Badgers rank #9.

    It is probably safe to say that the Wisconsin special teams unit is not the strongest part of their football team. For 2008, the Badgers lost two key components of their special teams in their kicker and punter.

    After having two reliable seniors last year, the Badgers had to turn to two freshmen to handle the kicking duties in 2008. As noted previously, freshman Phillip Welch as previously discussed took over the kicking duties and Brad Nortman handled the punting duties.

    Sophomore WR David Gilreath handled the role as punt return specialist and was the one stable part of the unit as he averaged a conference best 14-yards per punt return in 2007.

    For 2008, the 5-11, 165 pound sophomore wide receiver ranked #12 among punt returners in The Big Ten for kick returns having returned 39 kickoffs for an average of 19.67 yards per return. He has not returned a kickoff for a TD. His longest kick return for 2008 was 63 yards.

    Gilreath also returns punts and ranks #5 in the conference with 18 punt returns and averages 9.56 yards a return. He also has not had a punt returned for a TD. His longest punt return for 2008 was 44 yards. Gilreath does hold the Wisconsin school record for kickoff return yards in a season (967)and in a game(189).

    The special teams unit for the Badgers has allowed opponents to return kicks for an average of 20.95 yards per kick return. An opponent has not returned a kickoff for a TD this season.

    On punt returns, the Badgers have allowed opponents an average of 10.04 yards per punt. Opponents have scored 2 TDs on the Badgers for the season which was the second most in the conference behind Purdue. The special teams for the Badgers have not had any blocked kicks or punts for the season.

    The special teams coach however is not in jeopardy of losing his job. It's Badgers head coach Bret Bielema who has coordinated the special teams the past two seasons and who has not considered relinquishing his special teams' duties despite some unsteady play in 2008. An example of unsteady play was UW surrendering a punt return for a touchdown against Penn State and a punt blocked against Iowa.

    Says Bilema about his unit in 2008, "I enjoy (coaching) it. Obviously, I'm trying to break in a new kicker, a new punter. One kicker is doing well. One punter isn't. ... You just have to believe in what you know and how you assess it."

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