No.20 Wisconsin is still trying to figure that out.
The Badgers allowed kickoff returns of 97 and 95 yards to Arizona State, but survived it in a 20-19 non-conference win Sept. 18. UW wasn't as fortunate two weeks later, giving up a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown and countless other mistakes in a 34-24 loss to No.24 Michigan State.
Entering the game second in the conference in all-purpose yards, Michigan State's Keshawn Martin added to his 102 punt return yards and 201 kickoff return yards by two punts for 83 yards, including the 72 yarder, and three kickoffs for 71 yards.
"We can't have a mixed bag," UW Coach Bret Bielema said on Monday. "We have to be able to go out and understand what's going on this play. Offensively and defensively, we put together game plans that maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. In special teams, you only get so many chances and you can't be 50 percent out of two reps.
"That can be a huge factor. That's the one part we really try to emphasize to our kids - to be consistent in what we do."
It wasn't so much what Martin did as what Wisconsin did to create opportunities for Michigan State. Junior punter Brad Nortman tried to over kick his punt, resulting in a line drive that Martin took the distance, junior cornerback Devin Smith was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty at the end of the run and redshirt freshman Kyle Zuelger was whistled for offsides on a kickoff.
"If I do something and I don't like the results or consequences, the only person I can blame is myself," Bielema said. "From a head coaching profession, the hardest thing I have to do is remove someone from the football team. If I do that, it's usually not based on me making the decision to throw them off, it's based upon the actions they've given me.
"When we lost the game Saturday, it was based on the reactions we gave during the game … We punt the ball and give up the return. Bottom line is the consequences of that play gave them a 10-10 deal. We try to get how little things make a big thing in the end."
Minnesota (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten) ranks sixth in the conference in both kickoff return (21.1 per return) and punt return (7.2 per game).
Watt Brings the Motor
One of bright spots from Saturday's loss against Michigan State was the continued high-level performance that junior defensive end J.J. Watt brings to the table. Watt finished with a career-high 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and his first sack of the season.
Watt leads the Badgers with seven tackles for loss (fourth in the Big Ten), is tied for the team lead with 24 tackles and five pass breakups (tied for second in the Big Ten).
"J.J. was very productive," Bielema said.
In addition to his measured stats, Watt's play has led to others making plays and leaving points on the board.
Watt had a tipped pass that led to a Devin Smith interception against the Spartans, forced a fumble against UNLV that Aaron Henry returned for a touchdown against UNLV, had a quarterback hurry that led to a Blake Sorensen interception and blocked a field goal attempt against San Jose State.
While other players have limited pitch counts to keep them fresh for late in games, Bielema recognized that taking Watt off the field takes away a major part of the defense.
"What we have to do is determine what that pitch count is," Bielema said. "If you start looking at overall reps, there was obviously a big difference in reps between the first half and the second half. I think you have to be real specific about how much (reps) a guy is getting in a certain period of time.
"With the way J.J. plays, it's a little bit different, in my opinion, than a guy that maybe that doesn't play with the same amount of intensity and effort that J.J. gives you on every play."
White Catching Up
Being named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week for the second straight week, true freshman James White is settling in. After fumbling near the goal line against San Jose State, White has had zero turnovers, 243 rushing yards and six scores over the last two games. Among the top 100 rushers in the country, White's 8.34 yards per carry is fifth-best.
"It jumped out to you right away on film," Bielema said of White's performance. "Just a bystander watching the game knowing nothing about Wisconsin, (White) has gotten better every game. Football sense wise, he really, really gets it. Because of those plays he made, I don't think there is any other back in our program that would have those same results. He merits getting more playing time."
Despite seeing his streak of 100-yard games snapped at 10 when he managed 80 yards in 17 carries, junior running back John Clay has been productive, carrying the ball 94 times for 581 yards and six touchdowns. The question over the next five days will be how the coaching staff will divide the carries between Wisconsin's version of thunder and lightning.
"We probably have two of the best running back combinations that I have been around," Bielema said, "and I have been around some pretty good backs … James has popped out every time he touched the ball."
Extra Points: Keeping with tradition, Wisconsin awarded no MVPs following a loss … Wisconsin's Oct. 16 home game against Ohio State will be broadcast live on ESPN at 6 p.m. Wisconsin has won 25 of its last 28 night games dating back to 1995, including the last four in a row. In 2008, Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 20-17 to snap UW's 11-game winning streak at night … Bielema expects tight end Brian Wozniak (shoulder) and quarterback Curt Phillips (knee) to be back in the mix this week.