Try to Kick the Bad Habit

Responsible for two of the three missed attempts that have plagued Badgers' kickers through two games, junior Kyle French is trying to regain the mental edge with No.20 Wisconsin heading into a tough road game at Arizona State Saturday.

MADISON - Knowing that kicking is more mental than the physical mechanics, junior Kyle French has the approach that every field goal or extra point attempt is like hitting a smooth 8-iron on the golf course; don't crush it and let the swing take over.

It's a simple minded approach but instead of hitting the green through two games in the 2013 season, French is slicing into the woods.

After tailing off at the end of last season, missing his final three kicks before being replaced by true freshman Jack Russell in the Rose Bowl, French's game struggles have continued with a missed 40-yard field goal in the season opener and an extra point against Tennessee Tech.

He was replaced by Russell in the fourth quarter, but that move didn't prove much better with Russell missing a 31-yard field goal try, making him 0-for-3 in his career and causing head coach Gary Andersen to call the starting role "unsettled" in the days leading up to No.20 Wisconsin's stern road test at Arizona State Saturday.

"It hasn't gone the way we want it to be," said Andersen of the kicking role. "I'm going to look at myself and try to fix it and put them in positions to be successful and try to create a game like environment because it's not practice is the issue. It's just the game where we're not executing as high as we want to at as high a level as we want to."

That's led to spirited competition in the week of preparation and more work with tight end/special teams coach Jeff Genyk. During spring practices, Genyk – a former college punter - had encouraged his kickers to initially not worry about the end result as much of perfecting the technique, keeping the head still and simplifying the approach. That led French to close spring by going a perfect 2-for-2 in the annual scrimmage, chip shot field goals but good confidence boosters nonetheless.

That performance helped French regained the starting kicking job entering the summer and he kept heading into the season with a combination a good fall camp and Russell nursing a leg injury.

"Before I treated every kick as a different kick (but) now every kick is the exact same kick," said French when asked what he's learned of Genyk. "It's about a mental process I repeat no matter what. You don't think what yard line you are on, what the conditions are like around you, you don't worry about anything."

Now the issue with French is regaining that mental edge. While French has averaged a respectable 64.5 yards on his 14 kickoffs this season, including four touchbacks, he admits that he's not hitting the ball crisp, a concern that Andersen noticed from both kickers following Saturday's 48-0 win over Tennessee Tech.

"We're going to move through practice this week, and we're going to create a competition," said Andersen. "We'll see where it goes."

That competition remains respectable, according to French, has both kickers want to become the solution for Wisconsin, not the problem.

"The thing with Jack and I is we're always going to compete," said French. "Jack is a fantastic kicker. It speaks volumes about him the way he came in here as a walk-on freshman and was able to compete with me like that. We're always going to compete."

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