UW football: Manasseh Garner makes an impact

2010-10-18T19:51:00Z 2010-11-05T08:40:31Z UW football: Manasseh Garner makes an impactBy TOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

University of Wisconsin freshman Manasseh Garner was not named the Big Ten Conference's Special Teams Player of the Week.

He wasn't even named the Badgers' special teams MVP in the 31-18 victory over Ohio State.

Both of those honors on Monday went to wide receiver David Gilreath, a deserving choice after his 97-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff ignited the upset.

Still, Garner might have had as much impact on the kickoff coverage team as Gilreath had on the return team.

Going into the game, there was justifiable concern about the Badgers' season-long problem covering kickoffs and the Buckeyes' top ranking in the Big Ten on kickoff returns.

Enter Garner, whose determined play single-handedly made a difference on the coverage team. He was credited with three tackles, a high number on the kickoff team. Ohio State returned six kicks for 147 yards (24.5 average), with a long of 29 yards.

UW coach Bret Bielema said Garner "was a terror on kickoff coverage. He kind of ignited that whole unit."

It's an example of the impact a single player can make on special teams, without ever touching the football.

It also makes Garner, from Pittsburgh, a bona fide three-way threat, given he also plays wide receiver and defensive end.

"He's very gifted. He's very fast," Bielema said. "He's got a little bit of understanding of ball awareness, football IQ. He's played a lot of football at different positions, so I think his general football awareness is really good. Once he gets excited, he got faster on the kickoff every play."

A couple weeks ago, Bielema said he wanted to get Garner more involved on offense. That didn't really happen and now Bielema is talking about a bigger role on defense.

"There at the end of the game, when we're running out of guys to rush (quarterback) Terrelle Pryor, I about subbed (Garner) in without checking with our defensive coaches," Bielema said. "Just because I knew it would be a guy that had a fresh set of legs, that could go out there and run people down."

As for Gilreath, his first kickoff return for a touchdown earned him the special teams award for the third time in his career. He became the Big Ten's all-time leader in kickoff return yards on the opening return and now has 2,677 career yards. Michigan State's Derrick Mason had the old record of 2,575 yards.

No worries of letdown

Bielema talked to his players about South Carolina, which knocked off No. 1 Alabama a week earlier and then fell to unranked Kentucky on Saturday. "You always use examples in the world of college football," Bielema said.

But he thought his players already did a good job on Sunday of turning their attention to Iowa. The players didn't go through the customary corrections from the past game - not that there were many to be made - and instead moved straight into Iowa prep.

"Actually, our players came up and wanted to do that," Bielema said. "It was something that showed me they're thinking right and acting right."

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