Sept. 17, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- In the wake of his game-changing play -- an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against Utah State -- Wisconsin’s Kenzel Doe was asked for full disclosure: How many times did the 5-foot-8 Doe score on kick returns during his high school playing days in North Carolina? Surely he has done this before.
“In high school, to be honest, I didn’t even do punt returns,’’ he said with a sheepish grin. “We had somebody who was about the same height as me, and he was a lot faster. He was my cousin and I was always the one blocking for him. I really didn’t start doing anything with punt returns until I got here.’’
As it turned out Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, Doe really didn’t need any blocking -- and none was expected when he ran on to the field in the third quarter to field Tyler Bennett’s punt. Instead, the Badgers were in a “punt safe,’’ which more often than not results in a fair catch by the returner.
“When he kicked it, I looked to see how they were coming at me,’’ he said of Utah State’s gunners on kick coverage. “It was kind of a line drive and I saw that there was nobody on the left side, so when I saw the opening I thought, ‘OK, Kenzel, this is your chance. I’m going to catch it and go. I saw a touchdown.’’’
Once he accelerated and got to the near boundary in front of the Wisconsin bench, he got some help from his teammates, who formed a wall and sealed off the pursuit. “It really wasn’t a wall,’’ Doe said. “When they saw that I didn’t fair catch the ball and I was running, they just turned around and started blocking.’’
Doe felt like if he would have kept running in a straight line, Bennett would have gotten a tackling angle and cut him off. “I thought, ‘If he’s running this way (towards Doe and the sideline), he’s not going to be able to transition and turn around,’’’ he said. “So I cut back against the grain where he couldn’t tackle me.’’
Doe had one blocker in front of him -- 323-pound Beau Allen. “I didn’t even know Beau was running beside me until I scored and turned around and saw him there. I thought I was by myself,’’ said Doe, who had too much speed for Utah State linebacker Kyler Fackrell, the last player with a chance to bring him down.
“I knew I had it in me,’’ Doe then said in response to a question about his speed in the open field. “I just didn’t know when it was going to come out.’’
Not everyone was surprised that he had an extra gear. “We all knew it, and it was only a matter of time before he showed it on game day,’’ said safety Dezmen Southward. “He reminds me of David Gilreath (a former UW kick return specialist). He can make some plays. He’s quick, and he’s shifty.’’
His timing couldn’t have been better, either.
The Badgers had been booed of the field at halftime and trailed, 14-3.
“It was huge,’’ Southward said. “No matter how many three-and-outs or stops the defense was getting, what does that mean if we’re not putting points on the board? That was a game-changer; it completely changed the momentum.’’
Everybody agreed on that point.
“When I saw him get to the wall,’’ said guard Ryan Groy, “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s off to the races.’ It changed the game.’’
Added tailback Montee Ball, “It was the high-energy play of the game.’’
It was about redemption, too, for Doe, who was subbing on punt returns for the injured Jared Abbrederis.
In the first quarter, Doe drifted when a punt was in the air and lost track of where he was on the field. As a result, he called for a fair catch on his own 3-yard-line; the last thing a struggling offense needed.
“I had to have a short-term memory,’’ Doe said. “I couldn’t let it affect me.’’
Moving forward, UW quarterback Danny O’Brien will have to treat his benching the same way. Joel Stave replaced O’Brien in the second half.
“I went down a similar path last year in a different system,’’ said O’Brien, the Maryland transfer. “I will handle it professionally and support whoever is in there. If it’s me, I have a lot of confidence that I can win games and play well because I’ve done it before. I’m going to be positive either way.’’
This game can be so humbling. Just ask placekicker Kyle French, who missed a field goal, had an extra point blocked and booted a kickoff out of bounds.
“The kickoff was more mental than anything,’’ French said. “On the field goal, we tried changing up a little bit with the indicator for the snap, and I started going a little early and got out of rhythm. We’re going to have to look at the extra point (on film) and see what happened. Kicking is half mental, half physical.
“Over the summer, I worked a lot on the mental side, and I think I improved a lot. The first two games I had a pretty good showing. Today was a day that I needed. I think I needed a humbling moment.’’
This game can be so humbling. Just ask anybody on the UW offensive line. “The penalties were really killing us tonight (Saturday),’’ said center Travis Frederick. “We need to keep improving on the things that we’re lacking at. But I think it’s getting better. I think we’re getting there.’’
Groy felt the same way despite all the procedure flags in the first half and the inability of the offense to convert in third-and-short situations.
“We believe in the same things as Coach Miller believes in,’’ he said of interim assistant coach Bart Miller, who took over the O-line after Mike Markuson was dismissed following last Saturday’s loss at Oregon State.
“It’s all about pounding people, pounding people. We’re trying to work back into it. The first two games, we didn’t show it, we weren’t moving people. It was improved this game. But we’ve still got to fix some things and move on.’’
Ball, who rushed for 139 yards and one touchdown, was encouraged. “We weren’t expecting the offensive line to dominate every single play,’’ he said. “But you could clearly see there was a difference and we’re going to build off that and most definitely create an even better identity for ourselves on offense.’’
In the end, the Badgers needed a break -- a missed field goal -- to survive. “We did enough to win,’’ said Chris Borland. “We’ve shown that (resiliency) all season. We’ve continued to fight, and that’s great because we can get better.’’