After going 19-for-22 as a true freshman, including making two clutch kicks in the Outback Bowl and ending the year successfully converting 14 straight kicks, Rafael Gaglianone had high hopes for 2015. So his 18-for-27 season (66.7 percent) was a little disappointing.
He missed at least one field goal in eight games, including missing two at Nebraska, as accuracy seemed to be his biggest problem. He was 10-for-13 on kicks less than 40, 8-for-11 on attempts 40-49 and 0-for-3 on kicks over 50.
However, while missing a 42-yard kick against Iowa changed the complexion of the game, Gaglianone hit a pair of game-winning kicks this season. He nailed a 46-yard kick shortly after missing a 39-yard try to beat Nebraska with seconds left and hit the game-winning 29-yard kick in the final two minutes to help UW beat USC.
Gaglianone’s Holiday Bowl kick was Wisconsin’s 16th game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter or overtime since 1961. He is the fifth player in school history with multiple game-winning kicks in a career.
The kickoff duties were split this season between Andrew Endicott and Jack Russell, mainly because Endicott dealt with injuries off and on. Endicott certainly brought the stronger leg of the two, averaging 60.3 yards on 36 kickoff with nine touchbacks (2 OB) compared to Russell’s 53.9 average on 27 kickoffs with three touchbacks (1 OB).
It was evident early on that the punting scheme under former head coach Gary Andersen and special teams coach Jeff Genyk did Drew Meyer no favors. Coming off a season in which he had career-lows across the board, Meyer had a bounce-back senior season, as his average (39.7 on 60 punts), punts inside the 20 (27) and punts over 50 (14) were the best since his freshman season.
He earned two Big Ten special teams player of the week honors for the first time in his career: one after averaging 46.8 yards on five punts (putting three in the 20 and three over 50) in the win at Illinois and after averaging 41.3 yards on seven punts (including three inside the 20 and two over 50 in the fourth quarter) in a win at Minnesota. Just two of his seven returns against the Gophers were fielded and netted Minnesota zero punt return yards.
He was just as good in the win over USC, averaging 39.8 yards on his six punts, putting three inside the 20 and kicking two over 50.
Wisconsin’s return game was without much ado for much of the season and the final stats reflect that. UW’s punt return game returned a total of 29 of 85 punts. Senior Alex Erickson returned 24 punts for 176 yards for a 7.3 average. His best return was a 35-yard return but his muff against Northwestern was one of five turnovers committed by the Badgers. UW finished with a 7.28-yard average (78th nationally).
The kick return game also didn’t yield much, as Wisconsin finished 92nd in the country with a 19.82-yard average. However, Natrell Jamerson, who averaged 22.4 yards on his 20 returns during his first year on the job, delivered against Maryland.
After Maryland took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the sophomore cornerback followed his blockers and sprinted 98 yards to the house to tie the game.
“Jamer can run,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “It was big for that group, not just for Natrell … Natrell’s name goes on that return, but it’s pretty cool the excitement all those guys had, and even the ones that weren’t on the field. They know what that group’s been doing. We haven’t been great on kickoff returns. It was good to get one.”
Jamerson’s average coming into the game at 18.4, with his longest return of 33 coming in the first game of the season against Alabama, but he showed on that one return that he has the breakaway speed to be able to deliver to the program.
“Every guy just did their job,” said senior fullback Derek Watt, who levied one of the key blocks. “We knew going in it’s going to pop sometime. We haven’t had exactly every guy buying in all year. We’ve been working hard but it hasn’t been there. (Against Maryland) it just clicked.”
Of the 55 combined kickoffs, a handful to some of the best returners in the country, UW gave up an average of 17 yards per kickoff – putting the Badgers eighth in the country - with the longest being 42 yards.
Throughout the season, Meyer’s ball placement and hang time helped UW’s coverage units face only 17 punt returns. UW gave up an average of 4.06 yards per return – good for 17th in the country - and none over 18 yards. He also sold Joe Schobert’s fake punt against Maryland, which went 57 yards and set up a UW touchdown.