Do you expect the Badgers to score every time they touch the ball? Do you expect Ohio State to always have suspended players? Do you expect Minnesota to lose the remainder of their schedule?
The answer for all of these, most likely, is a resounding yes.
But let’s examine the first question. The Badgers’ offensive success this season has cost another player an opportunity.
That player is Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman.
With the Wisconsin offense almost never allowing the team to get into a punt situation, what does Nortman do on Saturdays? Does he go to the stadium, warm-up and then fall asleep on the sidelines, waiting for the odd chance Bielema asks him to punt?
Do his eyes roam the seats behind the Badger sideline, looking for the occasional food vendor so he can go the way of Mark Sanchez and eat a hot dog on the sideline? Or maybe Nortman is just content to sit back and watch the Badgers thoroughly dominate games all season long from one of the best views in the house.
Whatever the case, #98 has become a diminishing feature of the Badgers this year.
The senior from Brookfield, Wis., has only punted 10 times this season. How many games have the Badgers played this season?
That’s a whopping average of two punts per game. That doesn’t exactly give the punter many chances to show off his talents, as the senior is currently somewhere close to the bottom of the rankings for attempted punts in the FBS.
This massive decrease in punts is nothing new for Nortman and the Badgers. As Wisconsin’s success has increased over the years, so have Nortman’s punts. In 2008, Nortman punted 66 times. The Badgers finished 7-6 that year.
In 2009 he punted just 49 times. The Badgers went 10-3.
In 2010, Nortman punted 38 times (which would have been 40 if not for two glorious fake punts that immortalized Nortman as a god amongst punters in Badger history). Wisconsin won the Big Ten championship and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl.
This year, Nortman is currently on pace for 26 attempts in 2011. Who knows what Wisconsin could possibly accomplish this year?
This decrease in punts is a great stat for Nortman and the Badgers because one of the greatest indicators of a team’s offensive success is the disappearance of the punter. The punter who currently leads the FBS in punt attempts (53) and punting yards (2531) is Bobby Cowan of Idaho, who plays for a team that is currently 1-5. If you’re punting an average of eight to nine times a game, chances are your offense isn’t scoring a lot of points. Top teams’ punters like Alabama and LSU have only attempted a little over 20 punts each this season.
The main reason you have a better chance of seeing the Wisconsin Marching Band on the field than Nortman in a game this season is the dominance of the Wisconsin offense. The Badgers currently rank ninth in total offense in all of the FBS with 523 yards per game, trailing mostly teams that run a spread offense, like Houston and Texas Tech.
When it comes to points per game, the Badgers score the third most points in all of the FBS, with over 48 points per game. Sometimes the Badgers get so sick of scoring touchdowns they just kick field goals to keep Welch and French on their toes.
It probably doesn’t help Nortman either that the Wisconsin defense has been one of the nation’s best.
The Wisconsin defense is currently giving up the third-fewest points per game in the FBS (10.2) along with the seventh-fewest yards per game (264.2). The Wisconsin defense helps the offense gain great field position for the ensuing possession, which is more than Russell Wilson and the Badgers’ offense need to punch it in for six.
The quality of some of Wisconsin’s opponents have not been in Nortman’s favor, with the Wisconsin starters executing the proverbial curb-stomp upon weaker competition such as Nevada-Las Vegas, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota. Even against Nebraska, Wisconsin recovered after a few minor hiccups to run the tables (Nortman still punted only twice).
But this hasn’t stopped Nortman from increasing the quality of his punts. Every year, he has punted for a better average than the last, as the senior averages over 43 yards per punt, ranking him in the top 50 of the FBS.
Consistency is extremely important for punters, as we saw this season what a poor punt can do for a team (Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker’s incredible shank of negative four yards against the Badgers). And Nortman has had fewer chances than ever to show his consistency.
But the senior continues to consistently execute his role for the Badgers, with both booming punts and pooch punts. The fact that Nortman continues to show improvement in his game despite only two punts a game is a testament to the mental toughness of the senior.
Bielema would agree with that assessment, as he advocated for his punter in his Monday press conference.
“I reached out to the two Senior Bowl games just to let them know, ‘Don’t bypass my punter because he doesn’t have the numbers,'” Bielema said. “Don’t penalize him for [us] being good on offense. Brad’s as mentally tough as I’ve had at that position. Usually kickers and punters are a little off-center, but he’s been really good.”
I’m sure as the Badgers go deeper into their conference schedule and see stronger opponents – especially on the road – Nortman will gain extended opportunities to smell the field again. But Nortman’s disappearance from the field is only a positive sign for Wisconsin.
If the Badgers go on to win the Big Ten or the national championship, it will be in large part to their offense being so effective. Dominating time of possession, marching down the field and scoring almost every time it touches the ball, Wisconsin has a chance to do something special this season.
While the offensive surge has been to the benefit of almost everybody, Nortman will have to impress scouts and others in only a few attempts.
As he’s proven so far, when the Badgers need Nortman, he will be ready. But hopefully it isn’t too often.
Nick is a senior majoring in history and poor writing. Think the Badgers need Nortman to punt more? If you do, he probably doesn’t want to hear from you, but email Nick anyway at [email protected] and let him know what you think.