The kicking game can be taken for granted during games, when field goals, extra points and punts are expected to be made and drop inside the 10-yard line. The Badger special teams, however, have made these certainties into question marks.
Placekicker Mark Neuser is trying to answer to one of those questions. If last Saturday’s performance is any indication of his reliability, he might have finalized his position on the Badger squad. On a day when the Badger’s were blown out 63-32 Neuser was perfect on his kicking attempts. The sophomore’s accurate kicking may be just what the Badger special team needs to get to the level of play fans have come to expect.
“The kids have really improved,” said special teams coach Darrel Wilson. “We pretty much have the young men in place; now it’s time to finish up the season strong.”
Neuser inherited the role of place kicker and kickoff specialist after the early-season woes of freshman Mike Allen and Adam Espinoza. Allen missed two field goals in the Badgers’ win against Penn State to drop to 6-9 on the season. While Allen has struggled in his accuracy, Espinoza has had difficulty keeping his kickoffs in the field of play.
“He got flustered against Penn State,” Wilson said of Allen. “We want him to settle down. If we need him, he can go.”
Currently Nueser and punter Kirk Munden are the two men that will walk the sideline as the team’s kickers. Nueser emerged from Saturday’s drudging having made both of his field goal attempts on the season and all six of his extra points. Nueser is slowly building the confidence that has exuded from previous Badger kickers.
“I’ve been working with Kevin,” said Munden. “He’s been helping me on my fundamentals and just working on getting me more consistent.”
Munden will enter this week with a 40-yard punt average, substantially shorter than the 45.7 average of freshman R.J. Morse. The difference between the two punters has been Munden’s ability to down the ball inside of the 20-yard line. Munden will enter Ohio State this Saturday with the reality that he is the best man for the job and is exuding the confidence that will keep it that way.
“I’ve got the leg and the confidence,” said Munden. “I just have to relax and do the job.”
The pressure that these kickers are feeling will be on their shoulders the entire season. Munden and Neuser say they realize they have to perform in order to avoid harsh criticism from UW supporters. For these two young kickers, the secret to success is to go out on the field and perform with excellence and confidence.
“I’m confident,” said Neuser. “As long as I keep kicking it straight down the middle.”
The season is still young and a lot can still happen, but for now this team’s kickers are confident in their own abilities, and that is an improvement from three weeks ago.
“We have to have some consistency,” said Wilson. “We think we’re where we need to be.”