The blocked punt that set up a touchdown wasn't the only big miscue for the University of Wisconsin special teams against Ohio State last week.
Somewhat lost in all of the debate over a second blocked punt in two weeks — the first was recovered for a touchdown against Michigan State — was the 42-yard kickoff return that set up the Buckeyes on their final possession.
That drive ended, of course, with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left that gave Ohio State the 33-29 victory.
The kickoff by sophomore Alec Lerner was a line drive to the 6-yard line, which started the problems. Special teams coach DeMontie Cross said there were four missed tackles on Jordan Hall during the return, the longest given up by the Badgers this season.
It gave the Buckeyes the ball at their own 48-yard line with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining.
"There have been some kicks that have not been the best," Cross said. "Guess what? We have to cover those kicks. That's the fun thing about kickoff team — you get a chance to go down and do something good and make game-changing plays and shift the field position.
"It's unfortunate on the last kick of the day, we had four missed tackles. There's nobody more frustrated than the kids themselves, because they recognize how important that kick is."
The first missed tackle, a sliding attempt by defensive end Tyler Dippel, came around the 25-yard line. Senior safety Adam Hampton also had a shot at Hall inside the 40. The other missed tackles came at the end of the run and wouldn't have changed the field position much.
Lerner, a sophomore in his first year handling kickoff duties, is averaging 62.9 yards per kick from the 30-yard line. He has seven touchbacks on 59 kickoffs and has hit three out of bounds.
The Badgers were hoping to improve on last season, when Philip Welch handled kickoffs and averaged 63.7 yards with 10 touchbacks and one out of bounds on 92 kickoffs.
Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in kickoff returns, averaging 26.9 yards. Hall ranks third individually with an average of 30.2.
UW coach Bret Bielema said his team had the same coverage call, against the same return, on the kickoff to start the second half. Hall was tackled at the 25 by Conor O'Neill on that one.
"So, bottom line, they executed better," Bielema said. "We didn't tackle efficiently and the result was the ball got close to midfield."
After struggling earlier in the season on kickoff coverage, the Badgers had improved. They rank fifth in the Big Ten in that area.
"That's a fun unit to coach," Cross said. "I think the kids have really bought into that phase of recognizing that they have to play better and do some good things. They have, for the most part."
Willis back at practice
It has been a slow road back from a sprained ankle for freshman wide receiver Fred Willis Jr., who was injured against Indiana three weeks ago and missed the past two games.
"We ran him out of the training room and forced him into practice (Tuesday)," wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said. "Didn't mean a lot of reps, but there's no more training room."
Bielema has been excited about Willis because of his speed, but a true freshman going through an injury for the first time is often a struggle. Sometimes it comes down to knowing the difference between pain and an injury.
"I think he had good pain, but at the same time, with the length of the season, you have to put a clock on it and toughen it up," Alexander said.
Recruit in big game
J.J. Denman, an offensive lineman from Fairless Hills, Pa., who has given an oral commitment to the Badgers, has been selected for the U.S. Under-19 national team that will compete in the third annual International Bowl.
The event, formerly known as Team USA vs. The World, will be held Aug. 19 in Austin, Texas. The U.S. will face a team comprised of players from all other countries.