Freshman kickoff specialist Taylor Mehlhaff could barely put the ball on the tee for his first career kickoff Saturday.
"That first one I put the ball down and I noticed my hands shaking," Mehlhaff said. "There's so many people out there, the first time was kind of crazy."
The more than 80,000 fans in Camp Randall Stadium that created that nervous sensation, however, probably did not notice the hiccup. Mehlhaff blasted his first career kickoff nine yards deep in the end zone.
"After that I felt good," he said. "I got into it, calmed down a little bit."
Of Wisconsin's 71 kickoffs last season, only eight were not returned. Of Mehlhaff's six kickoffs Saturday, only three were returned and for a mere 14.7 yards per return. Following a kickoff, Central Florida's best starting field position was its own 21. It was a far cry from last season, when the Badgers struggled with their kickoffs and kick coverage.
"It's nice after you score a touchdown not having to roll the dice on how you want to kick it, whether you want to squib it or kick it off or place it someplace and just let him wail it down there," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "That's a relief."
Mehlhaff did not choose to kick away on every kickoff opportunity Saturday.
"I was working on putting some down in the corner, but a couple of them I just didn't hit squarely," he said. "I ended up actually hitting them pretty high, got some good hang time on them."
The Badgers also debuted a new punter Saturday, redshirt freshman Ken DeBauche, who won a competition with senior R.J. Morse that could continue throughout the season. DeBauche was told before practice Thursday that he would be the starting punter.
"I wanted to keep that competition open all week," Alvarez said. "And it was tight. Their get off was about the same, DeBauche had a little better hang time, about a yard or two more in distance…He earned the right to kick today."
DeBauche punted three times for a 39.3 yard average. None of his punts were returned. His best attempt sailed 45 yards before being downed at the UCF 6. He struggled, however, kicking out the shadow of his own end zone on his last attempt, which flew just 33 yards to the UW 38.
"I think I rushed it. The nerves might have got to me on that one," DeBauche said. "The biggest thing was the drop. I had a bad drop, so therefore I had a bad punt."
Young kickers hit the mark
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