After being in the newspaper headlines the last four games following mistakes, the University of Wisconsin special teams units needed something good to happen to them against Illinois on Saturday.

Thanks in large part to senior punter Brad Nortman, it finally happened.

On two occasions, Nortman single-handedly helped tilt field position in the Badgers' favor, both of which turned into big plays.

The first time came in the second quarter, when he pinned the Illini back at their 5-yard line. That led to a touchdown because Illinois punter Justin Duvernois was tackled at the UW 2-yard by Conor O'Neill.

Nortman, who had to navigate a gusting wind at his back, has become adept at both angling punts out of bounds or killing them in the middle of the field, where they can be downed.

He put three of his four punts in the game inside the 20, giving him 15 in 34 punts this season, with only two touchbacks.

"Pooch punting has really improved, being able to hang it up there and place it like that, taking (out) even the variable of it bouncing in the end zone -- even though we have very reliable guys -- if I can put it out of bounds," Nortman said. "It's that much more safe."

O'Neill then took matters into his own hands after he saw Duvernois cleanly catch the snap, but drop it as he took a step.

"I wasn't even supposed to be going for the block," O'Neill said. "I was supposed to be picking the tackle, for James White to free up for the block."

But after seeing the bobble, O'Neill decided to go for the punter and made the tackle. He was asked if he has the freedome to change his assignment like that.

"I don't really know if we're supposed to," he said. "I thought, 'You know what? I need to make a play, I need to make a difference.' "

Nortman did that in the third quarter, with the Badgers facing a fourth-and-31 from their own 23 after a high shotgun snap led to a 19-yard loss. With the wind at his back, Nortman boomed a 74-yard punt to the Illinois 3. It was the second-longest punt of his career, behind a 76-yarder last season against Austin Peay.

"It's certainly nice to punt with the wind at your back," Nortman said. "Going into it was pretty challenging. One of the most drastic wins I've felt this season.

"Being able to change field position like that and help out our defense, help them do what they do best, it was good for me to be able to contribute in a game like that."

It was also precisely what UW's special teams needed after problems on kickoff coverage and punt blocking in past games.

"I think each and every one of us on special teams realizes each thing that happens to us, positive or negative, has to be looked as a learning expereince," O'Neill said.

"The past few kickoffs the last few weeks have been difficult. Ever since Ohio State and Michigan State (blocked) punts, we've been emphasizing holding our blocks longer, making sure we hold (out) our man, everything is protection first."

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