It wasn’t solely because some of Wisconsin’s special teams units were not making big impacts, but because Maryland usually dominates special teams battles, as the Terrapins ranked first in the Big Ten for punt return average (19), third in kickoff return average (22.3) and haven’t missed a field goal all year.
The extra work helped the Badgers turn the tables Saturday, as fake punts, unusual punts and solid coverage helped Wisconsin be the team with the dangerous special teams in a 52-7 victory over the Terrapins.
“Special teams wise, when you get those young men that are out there, the youth playing, it’s important that you give them an opportunity to change the game,” Andersen said. “We tried to be a little more aggressive.”
Aggressive they were, as Wisconsin was able to pull off a successful fake punt on the second offensive series in the game, their first since last year against Arizona State, where linebacker Chris Borland was able to hit Jacob Pedersen. Ironically, both of those players were part of the Homecoming crowd.
With Wisconsin facing a fourth-and-nine at the Maryland’s 36-yard line, punter Drew Meyer was able to pull off a fake by running toward the line of scrimmage before successfully completing a jump pass to tight end Troy Fumagalli for 17 yards. The conversion set up a 36-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone to give Wisconsin a 10-0 lead.“We wanted to do it on that side of the field because we wanted to try and get him into a safe scenario where the defense was on the field,” Andersen said. “Not often do you get fakes run in safe scenarios but we felt like it was the best opportunity. Coach Busch and Coach Genyk did a tremendous job of designing it and we dialed it up at the first opportunity it was there and it just happened to be early in the game. They executed it very, very well.”
“It was pretty much pass all the way,” added Meyer. “It was kind of one of those where we figured those linebackers would come up thinking that it might be a run type of thing, it just worked out great and Troy made a great play.”
Andersen’s trickery on special teams didn’t stop with the fake punt. If that didn’t wake up the crowd of 80,336, then having quarterback Bart Houston punt certainly did.
“Bringing Bart in there and doing what Bart did, everybody looks at that punt and probably says, ‘whoa, holy cow,’ Andersen said of Houston’s rugby punt that went 52 yards. “But job well done. It’s designed to roll down there and potentially not to get their hands on it.”
Despite the odd personnel shift, Houston did inform special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk that he had punted in high school. Houston said after the game that he believes in his senior year at De La Salle High School in California he had a total of 13 game punts.
“We watched him punt,” said Andersen. “The normal punting didn’t go so well in practice, it was up and down a little bit to say the least, but he … got used to the rugby style scenario, and that’s where we used him, and we’ll continue to use him in that spot.”
Houston did admit that he had never heard of a rugby punt before until last week Thursday. While the results were effective, Houston agreed with Andersen that he needs to get more height on the football if he punts again.
“The distance was good but I just have to get it high,” said Houston. “One of these days if I do that again I could hit Sam Arneson in the back. That’s not good. That would be going backward but I found the seam and made that sucker role.”
With Maryland ranking first in the Big Ten in punt return average, they didn’t want to give Will Likely a chance to return one against the Badgers. They succeed, as Likely had only one return for zero yards.“Their returner is always making people miss, big long runs just throughout the season,” said Houston. “He’s a good ball player. We didn’t just want to kick it right to him. That’s why we had my rugby punt to keep it on the ground so he’s not going to catch it and make people miss.”
Even though Wisconsin showed some of its cards Saturday, Meyer doesn’t expect the aggression to stop as Wisconsin goes forward for rest of Big Ten play.
“We really want to start being more aggressive as a unit, really start winning games with the punt game and special teams,” he said. “That was a big emphasis this past week.”
Red Zone Success
The success on special teams translated into the Badgers having short field to work with on offense in the first half, sparking Wisconsin’s red zone offense.
Entering the game ranked 12th in the conference in success in the red zone, the Badgers convert on all six of their red zone opportunities (five touchdowns and one field goal), impressive considering Maryland entered the weekend second in the league in red zone defense (20-for-29) and had created a league leading four turnovers inside the 20.
“I thought we did a good job when we got done in the red zone being able to punch it in,” said quarterback Joel Stave. “We had a really good plan down there. We executed at a high level down in the red zone and that’s what you have to do. You have to be very decisive when you get down there because things speed up down there.”
Wisconsin’s offense made it look easy, especially on Stave’s pass-action throw to a wide-open Sam Arneson in the third quarter.“Anybody could have thrown that ball,” joked Stave. “The fake was pretty good, but it was a great play call, set up perfectly and everything like that. I thought offensively we were really able to exploit a few things.”
Warren Herring Returns
As good as the Wisconsin linebackers were in creating havoc in Maryland’s backfield, it all started up front with Herring and his linemates.
“That’s my job, keeping the offensive line from getting up to our backers,” said Herring. “That is what we stress in practice. We stress it every day and that’s our job. We got it done today.”
Herring, who missed the last five games following surgery after the season opener, couldn’t have been more excited to return to the field.
“It felt great, being back with my guys on defense,” said Herring. “I’ve been missing them. So getting back and being able to fly around for them is great.”
Herring didn’t finish the game with a tackle but having him back in the lineup means good things for a Wisconsin defense that ranks in the top 25 in each of the four major defensive categories (scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, and passing defense).
“We can be one of the best in the country,” Herring said. “That’s what we aim for every year and it’s one of our goals to be the best defense in the country. We are continuing to get better every week. We pride ourselves on that.”
Extra Points: The Badgers are 11-1 at home under Andersen…The Badgers did not turn the ball over for the second consecutive game… Tanner McEvoy’s 60-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was the second-longest run of his career (62-yard run against Bowling Green earlier this season). Those are the two longest runs by a Wisconsin QB since at least 1996.