Soaring specialists

Punter Ken DeBauche, kicker Taylor Mehlhaff and sprinter Zach Hampton key in Wisconsin's 23-20 win over Michigan; freshmen make special teams mistakes

MADISON — Fresh off his Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week performance last week at North Carolina, University of Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche was even better this week against Michigan.

DeBauche averaged 46.0 yards per punt on six attempts Saturday night, including blasts of a 59 (a career high) and 57 yards. He placed three punts inside the 20 and recorded a net average of 42.3 yards per punt for the second consecutive week.

More importantly DeBauche and the Badgers' punt coverage team held UM's dangerous return man, Steve Breaston, to just 22 yards on four attempts.

"I thought Kenny again kicked very well," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. "Kept pinning them down inside the 10-yard line. Field position's very important. I thought we covered extremely well."

DeBauche's play did wonders for the Badgers' field position. His 59-yard punt came with the Badgers backed up to their 10-yard line, and combined with a 13-yard return and a holding call on UM, pushed the Wolverines back to their 34.

Michigan had to take possession at its 8 following DeBauche's 57-yard third-quarter boom.

DeBauche has become rather adept at angling his punts, and sprinter Zach Hampton has developed a remarkable knack for tracking those punts down to their destination.

Early in the second quarter, Hampton and Jack Ikegwuonu combined to drill Breaston for no gain after a 42-yard punt.

DeBauche angled his second, second-quarter punt toward the boundary. The result: a 41-yarder where Hampton took down Breaston after a one-yard return.

"It's really nice to have someone out there who knows what I am doing and how I am going to be punting," DeBauche said of Hampton. "He always has an idea of where I am going to punt the ball and he has great awareness on the field. It's really great to have him on my side."

One of the officials at Saturday's game, however, might not be all that appreciative of DeBauche's punt-angling skills.

DeBauche's first punt of the evening was near perfect, going out of bounds at the Michigan 5. It was painful for the official set up near the corner of the end zone, however, as Hampton, the sprinter on the right side of the field, plowed over him as he was trying to get into position to down the punt.

The sophomore's last punt was his shortest, but was perhaps the best. Trailing 20-16 with less than six minutes to play, UW had a fourth-and-10 at the Michigan 36. DeBauche lofted a marvelous pooch punt into the air that bounced at about the 5 and was downed by Hampton at the 3. UM proceeded to go three-and-out and punt, giving UW the ball back at its 48 with 4:29 left to play, setting the stage for the Badgers' game-winning drive.

Mehlhaff on target

For the first 48 minutes Saturday, the Badgers only scoring came from the left foot of sophomore place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff.

Mehlhaff won the Badgers' field goal kicking duties during fall camp, but in UW's first three games, he had only had two attempts, making one. Saturday, though, Mehlhaff was a perfect 3-for-3, connecting from 35, 43 and 27 yards out.

"Taylor needed this day," Alvarez said. "We said going in, any time you get in the red zone you have to capitalize, you have to get points, you can't come out of there with zero. He kept us in the game with his field goals. I'm really happy for him."

Considering the Badgers won by a mere three points, Mehlhaff's play was invaluable.

"I've worked really hard and haven't had a lot of opportunities and this was the perfect game to get them," Mehlhaff said.

"I knew that this game was going to be close and it was," Mehlhaff said.

Mehlhaff also averaged 59.8 yards per kickoff, with three touchbacks. Breaston had just 47 yards on three kick returns.

Freshmen follies

Special teams was not flawless. The Badgers harmed themselves with a pair of second-quarter special teams penalties in close succession.

With the score knotted at 0-0, UM kicker Garrett Rivas missed a 49-yard field goal attempt. But Allen Langford was called for running into the kicker, giving Rivas another opportunity from five yards closer. The junior drilled it from 44 out to give UM a 3-0 edge.

On the ensuing kickoff, Brandon Williams took the ball about four yards deep in Badger end zone and raced out to the UW 42. But after a holding call on freshman Jonathan Casillas, the Badgers had to start their drive at their 28.

UW was also flagged on its only punt return of the first half, as freshman Travis Beckum was called for a personal foul facemask, pushing the Badgers back to their 11.

"There are some young kids (that) made some mistakes today in the kicking game," Alvarez said.

Notable: Senior linebacker Mark Zalewski led the Badgers with 11 tackles, including nine assists, and recovered a fumble… defensive tackle Jason Chapman left the game twice due to injury… The Badgers' longest play from scrimmage was an 18-yard pass from quarterback John Stocco to receiver Jonathan Orr… At halftime, UM held a 16:05-13:55 edge in time of possession. In the third quarter, however, the Badgers held a 9:09-5:51 advantage. In the fourth quarter, UW's edge was an amazing 11:27-3:33… Michigan out-gained the Badgers 401-287 yards, but UW held a 194-133 edge in the second half… In its last six games over the past two seasons, UM is now 0-4 against non-Mid-American Conference opponents.

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