The University of Wisconsin football team’s offense was so productive the past two seasons, it threatened to make punting obsolete.
That hasn’t been an issue this season, with redshirt freshman Drew Meyer getting plenty of work in the first two games.
“It’s fun to get out there and get that experience,” Meyer said. “I would have liked to have not been out there as much as we were.”
Fortunately for the Badgers, Meyer has been up to the challenge. His average of
40.5 yards ranks only sixth in the Big Ten Conference and is testament to how misleading that statistic can be. Michigan junior Will Hagerup, who attended Whitefish Bay High School, leads the conference at 49.8.
Yet, the Badgers rank second in the Big Ten — and No. 26 nationally — in net punting at 40.7. Michigan is dead last in the conference (No. 95 nationally) with a net of 34.0.
The most impressive thing about Meyer is his hang time, which has allowed only three of his 11 punts to be returned, with seven fair catches and one inside the 20.
“You want to find that balance, because you want to get enough distance on the ball that you’re changing field position and helping out the defense,” he said. “At the same time, you don’t want to hit that low line drive where the coverage team is left out there to dry.”
Meyer has received plenty of help from the coverage guys. The three returns have been for a combined minus-2 yards.
“All of the guys on the outside on the coverage team do a great job of protecting, too,” Meyer said. “I haven’t had any trouble, pressure or guys coming (free). They’ve all been doing their assignments.”
That’s important because UW’s next two opponents at Camp Randall Stadium, starting with Utah State on Saturday night, have blocked punts for touchdowns this season.
The Aggies overloaded the right side of the punt formation to come up with the block that resulted in their first touchdown in the 27-20 overtime victory over Utah last week.
UTEP, which faces UW next week, blocked a punt against Oklahoma in its opener.
“There are teams that are going to be coming after you, so that’s kind of fun to be in that position,” Meyer said.
“As long as we take care of our business and do our jobs and execute the game plan, we take the block out of the equation.”
UW coach Bret Bielema has called Meyer one of the most improved players on the team since last season. Meyer struggled in the spring game in cool and rainy conditions. But he worked with some kicking coaches over the summer whom he also worked with in high school at Hartland Arrowhead.
Meyer also attended a national kicking camp and came away confident he could compete with other top punters. One of the punters in his group was UTEP’s Ian Campbell, a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award last season, who was interested in learning about UW’s home stadium.
Former UW punter Brad Nortman, who is now with the Carolina Panthers, also has kept in touch and helped Meyer, especially with his pooch punting.
“That was fun to get to compete with those guys and see the level of how far punting has come,” Meyer said.
Change livens up practice
Bielema said the No. 1 reason he changed offensive line coaches this week was “to change the room, change the dynamics.”
“That definitely happened,” Bielema said of firing veteran offensive line coach Mike Markuson and promoting graduate assistant Bart Miller.
In fact, the practice on Tuesday was so spirited, after watching the video of it on Wednesday, Bielema said, “I was actually a little concerned ... that we didn’t spend it all on Tuesday. There was so much energy and enthusiasm.”
Bielema said Miller has done a good job handling the preparation this week, down to having a plan in place for when he became an offensive line coach.
“I give the kid a lot of credit — he actually had a plan that he’s been working on for the last year and a half about when he finally got his own room, his first time in there in front of people,” Bielema said.
“It really was amazing to me as a head coach to sit back and see him handle Tuesday’s practice. ... Obviously, Saturday’s game will be a big tell.”