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Punters rarely get the credit they deserve, but nonetheless play an important role in any team's success. Luckily, the Badgers have a pretty good one on their side. In just two seasons, Wisconsin's Drew Meyer is already among the top statistical punters in school history, joining the likes of former Ray Guy Award winner Kevin Stemke, along with one of the heroes of the last Wisconsin-Iowa matchup, Brad Nortman.
How did you get your start as a punter? Is it something you always wanted to do?
"I played soccer through fourth grade and then football started in fifth grade. Football was always my first love. I was the one kid in fifth grade who was able to kick the ball over the goalpost, so I started kicking then and ran with it. When I got into high school my coaches saw something in me and worked with me on everything from drops to steps and swinging up through the ball. They really helped me to develop into a punter and it ended up working out when I got the opportunity to come to Wisconsin."
Who are some of the punters you try to emulate?
"There are so many good ones that have come through Wisconsin. Guys like Kevin Stemke, Ken DeBauche, Brad Nortman, all of them. Brad was huge for me when I got here and really helped me during my first year. He really helped me with pooch punts. I had never really done that Australian-style, nose-down type of kick and Brad helped to introduce me to that."
As a punter, what defines success for you on the field?
"One of the biggest stats that we look for is net yards. It's not easy to have a big average, but net yards include hang time in the equation. You're helping your coverage team and you are helping your team as a whole with net yardage, which is the yardage from the line of scrimmage to where the ball ends up after the return. Because if you kick it into the end zone, or a guy has a big return, you have a big average, but you're not helping your team. So, net yardage is what you look for because that's how you're helping your team."
You've employed a rugby-style punt at times this season. What are the advantages to that?
"The rugby punt is a great tool to have because if teams try to load you up, you can game plan for that or check to that. So, if a team comes out and looks like they are going to be coming off one way you can roll the other way. It changes the game a little bit, too. You are able to get the ball on the ground and have it bounce around a little bit, which can make it harder for the return man to handle. It's always great when you are punting into the wind. It just opens up the playbook a little more."
What adjustments do you have to make to be able to execute a rugby punt?
"It's a little bit of a different leg swing. I kicked back in high school so it's not as difficult for me because I am used to that type of leg swing. It's kind of like a soccer swing. You have to swing up through the ball, but also have to make sure you're keeping it out there so you get a nice end-over-end rotation."
What do you like about the rugby punt?
"It's just a great strategy because it keeps the defense on their toes. They might be able to game plan on how to stop you in the regular formation, but the rugby punt gives us the ability to check out of that, which throws the defense off."
"It's always fun as a specialist when you have the opportunity to do something like that. It got Brad a lot publicity when he did it, which was funny because he is such a humble guy. But it's always fun. Anytime you see a team across the country run a fake, your eyes get big and it's always something you wish you'll get the chance to do in your career."
- Ryan Evans
Running back Corey Clement has burst onto the scene as a true freshman for the Badgers. He already has a pair of 100-yard games and five touchdowns on the ground to go along with a Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor. With his string of strong early season performances, the Glassboro, N.J., native appears well-equipped to carry on Wisconsin's proud tradition of elite runners.
Being from New Jersey, what made Wisconsin the right fit for you?
"The football tradition here, especially the tradition of running backs at Wisconsin. In high school we were all about downhill (running) and coming out of Power-I and that's what Wisconsin is known for, as well, which is what drew me here. UW has a great business school, as well, which I was attracted to. Both school and football made it a great package for me. It's a great blessing to be part of the Badgers now."
What's your relationship like with fellow New Jersey native Ron Dayne?
"He has been a great connection for me since day one. I met Ron before I came to Wisconsin, actually. He's been showing me the ins and outs of why I should come here, the benefits of here compared to other schools and what to look for, basically."
What have you been able to learn from James White and Melvin Gordon?
"A lot of patience within the hole. They are a great film study. We always study film together. It's all about making defenders miss, and James and Melvin both do a great job of that. I just want to fall in behind them and try to match them, but try to compete as well."
What's the competition like between you three?
"It is very competitive. Within our running back room and every day in practice we have to go out and try to be better than the next back, because if you're not going to push one another, then you'll be stuck in the same place as where you started."
What do you think makes the two-back system successful at Wisconsin?
"It all starts in practice. Coach (Thomas) Hammock always says that what you put out in practice is what you put out on the field. James and Melvin both do a great job of acting like it's a game every day in practice and that's the example that I want to follow."
What has Coach Hammock been working with you on this season?
"Everything, because I am not a perfect back. He is going to try and correct any flaw that he sees within me. It's all about getting vertical and making the right cuts. It's all about getting better each week. Coach Hammock and I actually joke a lot and everyone jokes a lot. It's all about love in the running back room."
Did you expect to play right away as a freshman this season?
"That was my main goal. I want to get in and show what I can do. I don't want to waste any time. My redshirt is burned up, but I want to keep it moving and show that I didn't take a redshirt year for a reason."
What has the transition been like from high school to college football?
"It all started back at home. I started running a lot of miles to get some wind under my belt. Still, though, when I got here I still wasn't really into college football speed because it moves a lot faster and I had to get adjusted. Week one and week two of camp were probably my roughest weeks, but as week three kicked in and towards the end of camp, I got into the groove of things. It's all about a mental process."
- Ryan Evans
After spending the first three seasons of his Badgers career as a running back, senior Kyle Zuleger was approached by coach Gary Andersen this spring and asked if he'd consider a move to safety to help build depth in the secondary. Zuleger has embraced his new position and has become a jack-of-all-trades for Wisconsin as a leader on special teams, including returning kickoffs.
What was your first
reaction when Coach Andersen asked if you'd move from running back to safety
"It made sense to me. I actually came to Wisconsin as a safety, so I didn't object to it too much. The switch gave me a shot to come in and make some plays, so I just went along with it."
Did the coaching
staff do anything to sell you on the move?
"They talked up the new 3-4 defense and everything that goes with it. In the new system, we play a lot of defensive backs on the field at one time. That was a really good selling point."
What was the most
difficult aspect of learning your new position?
"Just learning everything that goes into a new defense and switching your mindset from offense to defense is something that takes a little bit of a transition. But, like anything, if you're doing it everyday it naturally comes quicker and quicker."
What aspects of the
new 3-4 scheme were the hardest to pick up on?
"There wasn't one specific thing, it was more all-encompassing. It was a lot of understanding where you need to line up, where your assignment is and where your eyes need to be."
You've been returning
kickoffs recently. Is that a role that you enjoy?
"It's a lot of fun. Returning kicks in front of 90,000 people is always going to be fun."
You lead all players
in special teams tackles this season. What's the key to being an effective
special teams player?
"You have to play fast. You can't really think too much on special teams, otherwise you're beat. So you have to play fast."
A lot was made about
the youth in the secondary this season. How have you seen that group develop
and grow so far this season?
"I think a lot of guys are starting to understand the new defense more and things are starting to become second nature. There is less thinking and more reacting now. There's always cohesion that can be worked on, though. You can never be satisfied with where you are at. You have to come in everyday and work as a defense and as a unit."
What's been the
highlight of your Badger career so far?
"There are a lot of little things, like stuff in the locker room and the friendships and bonds that you make. But, the three Big Ten championships have been a great highlight."
What's your favorite
part of game day?
- Ryan Evans
I have to admit that I enjoy bye weeks. Part of it could be my naturally lazy nature, but it was fun to sit back and watch nearly 12 straight hours of college football. I took a peek at the Illinois-Nebraska game, and watched with even more interest as Indiana scored an impressive victory against Penn State.
I found myself glued to the TV during the Georgia-Tennessee game, and later took in part of the Florida-Arkansas tilt, which featured former UW assistant coaches Tim Davis and Brian White for the Gators, plus -- well, you know -- the first-year head coach of the Razorbacks and the staffers who followed Bret Bielema to Fayetteville. Since I happen to like everyone involved, I had no real rooting interest. Sorry to play the role of Switzerland here, but I am telling the truth.
Moving right along, the Northwestern-Ohio State game was as good as advertised, maybe even a bit better than the hype.
While the Buckeyes pulled out the win, the Wildcats continued to make a statement that they are no longer a cute little story. This is more than a team full of bookworms who will play a little football in their spare time.
For those who have yet to notice, it is time to state what should be obvious -- Northwestern is good. Very good. It is hard to believe that Pat Fitzgerald is in his eighth season as the head coach. The College Football Hall of Famer is just 38 years old, but if ever there is a perfect fit for a program, it is Fitzgerald and Northwestern football.
When the national pundits talk about good rivalries and crazy games, it is unlikely many will mention the Badgers and the Cats, but in the last couple of decades, there have been some wild ones between these two teams.
The gut-wrenching loss in 1996, followed by a dramatic 27-26 UW victory a year later on a Matt Davenport field goal in the closing seconds.
A Northwestern double-overtime win in 2000. A shootout in 2005, when the Wildcats outscored the Badgers 51-48. On that October afternoon, the teams combined for 1,189 yards of offense.
In 2009, a late fumble allowed Northwestern to hold off the Badgers, 33-31.
In 2010, Wisconsin erupted for 70 points in route to clinching the Big Ten championship. No close-game drama, but it was a terrific day for the Badgers as they collected the first of three straight conference titles.
Given the fact that the campuses are less than three hours apart, it is good to see these teams meet again. This often-interrupted series should be stable for the time being. Starting next season, the Badgers and Northwestern will be in the same division, so fans from both sides can hope for -- if not expect -- more wild games in the coming years.
Simply put, this is a huge game. The Wildcats still control their own destiny in the Legends Division. The Badgers need help in the Leaders, but regardless of what happens with Ohio State, the home team knows full well there is plenty of season remaining, and plenty to gain by getting back on track this weekend.
Yes, bye weeks are good. Then again, it seems like it has been a month since the Badgers last played.
During a beautiful autumn week in Madison, it is time to get back to football.
Bring on the Wildcats, and let the season resume.
- Photo Gallery: Shave to Save
Several Badgers lost their hair on Thursday in the hope of helping gain awareness for the patients battling childhood cancer at the American Family Children's Hospital.
Eight members of the UW football team put their hair in the hands of patients from the children's hospital, losing their locks in the name of advancing a cure for cancer.
In just over an hour's time, LB Ethan Armstrong, WR Lance Baretz, OL Kyle Costigan, WR Connor Cummins, OL Ryan Groy, WR Chase Hammond, LB Conor O'Neill and TE Jacob Pedersen all walked out of the locker room with new close-cropped cuts.
Here's a look at how the event -- and the hair -- went down: