Bielema says missed tackles will be addressed this week
Suddenly, kickoff coverage—or a lack of it—is a problem.
One week after Alec Lerner’s line-drive kickoff with less than 2 minutes left at Ohio State contributed to a 42-yard return and led to the Buckeyes’ game-winning touchdown, the Badgers’ coverage unit struggled again Saturday.
Wisconsin easily beat Purdue, 62-17, but allowed kick returns of 49, 74 and 40 yards and the Boilermakers took advantage of a short field after the first two to put up 10 points.
In all, Purdue totaled 246 yards on seven returns.
Asked to evaluate the unit, coach Bret Bielema said, “Again, like the last kick a week ago, missed tackles kill you. You just can’t have missed tackles on kickoff coverage. So I think we’re going to have to evaluate our personnel and what we’re doing with our alignments and our coverage rules.”
Philip Welch replaced Lerner and handled kickoff duties for the first time this season. His first two kicks, into the wind, were returned 49 and 74 yards by Raheem Mostert.
“I hit them pretty high so they hung up there,” Welch said. “It was just unlucky. The coverage is getting used to what direction I kick.”
On Mostert’s 74-yard return, Purdue’s blocking was so good and Wisconsin’s coverage so poor that Welch was the first defender with a chance to make the tackle.
“He ran right through me,” Welch admitted.
Mostert eventually was tripped up at the Wisconsin 16.
The Camp Randall Stadium crowd of 80,566 showed its displeasure by booing.
“I’m personally not a fan of any fan booing but I understand if they don’t like what they see,” Bielema said. “The biggest thing we have to be able to do is correct what’s going on.”
Fullback Bradie Ewing, a member of the kickoff coverage unit, said the long returns were a combination of good schemes by the Boilermakers and mistakes by the Badgers.
“I think we’ve just got to give some credit to them,” Ewing said. “They had some stuff schemed up with what we’re doing, so I don’t know if we’re going to change some stuff up here in the future.
“They were just executing their blocks and we were getting out-executed.”
After the two big returns, the Badgers settled down somewhat. Welch’s last six kickoffs resulted in two touchbacks and returns of 28, 12, 40 and 21 yards.
Lerner kicked off after the Badgers’ final two scores. His first kick, an intentional pop-up, resulted in a fair catch. The second kick was returned 22 yards.
Welch said he and Lerner probably would continue to compete for the job.
“We’re still pretty close so we’ll probably share some kicks over the rest of the season,” he said.
It doesn’t matter who does the kicking if the Badgers can’t get off blocks and make tackles.
“It just comes down to one-on-one,” Ewing said. “Guys have to execute.”