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January 14, 2014
Report Card: Specialists
Wisconsin's 2013 football season is in the books, so it's time to pass out our position grades after the Badgers finished the year 9-4 with a 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
We've reviewed all eight major position groups, so it's time to grade Wisconsin's specialists before we close out our season grades by reviewing the coaching staff. It was an interesting year on special teams, to say the least- you can find our grades for Kyle French, Jack Russell and Drew Meyer below.
John Veldhuis: Let's get this out of the way quickly: Wisconsin's field goal kicking was a mess in Gary Andersen's first year. The Badgers hit on just 14 of 21 field goal attempts this year (66.7 percent), which put them in an eight-way tie for 81st place. That's not where you want to be as a contending team, and Andersen did his best to fix the problem by yanking Kyle French from the starting job and plugging in Jack Russell for a change of pace. Russell wasn't much better, so the Badgers are bringing on a scholarship kicker for next season. Russell might give Rafael Gaglianone a run for his money, but teams do not usually put a kicker on scholarship if they think he's going to sit on the bench.
Don't let a poor overall performance by the kickers sour you on Drew Meyer, though. He put 17 of 53 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line and kept his average yards per punt at a respectable level, considering that often times he was working with a shorter field when Wisconsin's offense stalled at or around midfield. He's no Chad Zinchini, but Meyer was far removed from the problem on special teams.
Jon McNamara: Plain and simple, Wisconsin's specialists didn't perform well in 2013. Kyle French was benched midway through the season and will not be back with the team when camp opens this spring, even though he has one more year of eligibility remaining. He was replaced by Jack Russell, who was 9-for-13 on the year. As a duo, French and Russell converted on 14 of 21 field goal attempts, good for 10th in the Big Ten. Don't be surprised if true freshman Rafael Gaglianone wins the starting job next fall. And though he was certainly more consistent and productive, punter Drew Meyer averaged 35.7 yards on 53 punts in 2013. That was good for ninth in the conference. On a bright note, Wisconsin's kickoff coverage was solid and ranked fourth in the conference. True freshman Andrew Endicott handled those duties.
Jon Gorman: Had it not been for Kenzel Doe's kick off return in the Capital One Bowl, this may have been even worse. The combination of Kyle French and Jack Russell was nothing short of bad for Wisconsin this season, and likely cost the team multiple games. Drew Meyer was no more than passable. The return game also provided nothing spectacular all season. These units are going to have to improve if Wisconsin wants to be a real threat on the national stage.
Zack Miller: Rafael Gaglianone has a chance to become Wisconsin's favorite adopted son. The Tennessee native will be a welcome sight to many Wisconsin fans next fall after the horrendous showing that Kyle French and Jack Russell put on this season. As a rule of thumb, whenever you have arguably your best player lined up to take kicks, you need to find a new kicker. We'll never know just how good or bad Chris Borland was at kicking field goals but the fact that it got to the point where - had it not been for his injury - we were going to see him is reason enough for the D- grade.
Drew Meyer had an okay year to say the least. Many of his kicks didn't travel further than 35 yards and had it not been for another stellar defense in Madison, the Badgers could have paid the price.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.