Badger notes: UW kickers still jockeying to be No. 1 option

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, September 8, 2013

MADISON—Gary Andersen doesn’t have an annoying quarterback controversy on his hands.

However, Wisconsin’s first-year coach appears to have a kicking competition.

If UW kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell continue to tattoo the right upright, Andersen might have a quandary.

“We just need to progress,” Andersen said after both kickers were less than satisfactory in UW’s 48-0 victory over Tennessee Tech on Saturday. “We’ve got to get better. We’re going to get in a position where we’re going to have to make those kicks.”

French, who missed a 40-yard field goal attempt to the left in the opener, hit four of five extra-point attempts Saturday. He clanged the ball off the right upright on his fifth try.

That led the staff to give Russell an opportunity. He made two extra points and averaged 62.0 yards on two kickoffs.

However, he missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt when the ball clanged off the right upright with 53 seconds remaining.

“I kind of feel the same way I felt about the kickoff team … a week ago,” Andersen said. “It’s just not crisp. We’ve got to continue to improve. It all starts with me. I’m not pointing fingers at any kid. I’m not pointing a finger at any assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to find a way to help him (French) and get him where he needs to be, and sometimes the best way to help people is to create competition. So that’s what we’ll do.”

Assembly dance

Football coaches routinely preach to their players about the necessity of handling “sudden change.” Usually the scenario involves a defense having to make a stop after a turnover.

UW offensive line coach T.J. Woods saw his unit handle a rare sudden change Saturday.

After James White gained 7 yards to the Tennessee Tech 37 with UW holding a 14-0 lead late in the second quarter, a shoe problem sent right tackle Rob Havenstein to the sideline for repairs.

Woods sent Kyle Costigan onto the field and UW proceeded to juggle its line. Costigan lined up right guard, sending Zac Matthias from that spot to left guard. That moved Ryan Groy from left guard to left tackle, which sent Tyler Marz from left tackle to the right side.

The only player who maintained his spot was center Dallas Lewallen.

“It’s easy,” Groy said. “We do it every week in practice to get guys breathers.”

Tailback Melvin Gordon took a handoff from quarterback Joel Stave and headed into the middle of the line, bounced to the outside and got down the left sideline for a 37-yard touchdown with 3 minutes 51 seconds left in the half.

According to Lewallen, the linemen handled their assignments just as they do in practice when Woods juggles the line.

“He is just getting us ready for the situation that we had in the game today,” Lewallen said. “He’s getting guys reps in those different spots so if something comes up—like a shoe flying off—that we’re ready for it.”

O’Neill maximizes his chance

With Derek Landisch out with an ankle injury suffered in the opener, redshirt senior Conor O’Neill started at inside linebacker.

O’Neill made plays from sideline to sideline in the first half and finished with a team-high nine tackles. O’Neill entered the day with 50 tackles in 40 games, mostly on special teams.

“Getting my first start, it means a lot to me to be able to run out there with the first unit,” O’Neill said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to live with any regrets. I feel I took advantage of that.

“The first play was kind of a blur, just knowing that I’m actually out there getting the first-team reps.”

Landisch, who made two tackles in the opener against UMass, hopes to be ready to play this week at Arizona State.

Better coverage

As promised UW made several moves on the kickoff coverage unit.

Three new faces were linebacker Vince Biegel, wide receiver A.J. Jordan and safety Joe Ferguson.

UW held Tennessee Tech to 17.3 yards per return, an improvement from the 24.0-yard average UMass posted in the opener. The Golden Eagles started their drives after kickoffs, on average, at their 21. That included two drives that began at the 25 after touchbacks.

“Kickoff team drastically improved,” Andersen said. “You saw some new faces. They seemed to have a little identity about themselves today and an excitement to play.”

Gordon sits

Gordon rushed nine times for 140 yards and a touchdown—all in the first half. Gordon didn’t play after halftime as freshman Corey Clement and White combined for 27 carries for 218 yards in the second half.

Andersen and Gordon said the tailback was not injured.

“He was ready to go,” Andersen said. “I think that James has been here for so long. It is his senior year.”

Extra points

Redshirt freshman Bart Houston relieved Stave late in the game for the second consecutive week, ahead of No. 2 quarterback Curt Phillips. Andersen said he wanted Houston to get more work and that Phillips is ready to play at any time.

Andersen and several UW players lauded the hustle of Jordan, who sprinted from the backside and threw a key block late on Clement’s 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Jared Abbrederis handled one punt, at his 24, with UW leading, 7-0, in the opening quarter. According to Andersen, Abbrederis will be occasionally used in “safe” situations, inside UW territory.

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