One of the least talked-about positional groups in football is the special teams unit, but as the Badgers found out against BYU last fall, a missed field goal can be the difference.
The missed field goal as time wound down cost the Badgers a loss at home to BYU, and it derailed the Badgers' 2018 season, which had playoff aspirations.
Wisconsin will go into the 2019 season with a starting kicker not named Rafael Gaglianone for the first time since the 2013 campaign. After being the lead man for five years, Gaglianone leaves UW fifth in all-time FG percentage after 56 career games and is the all-time leader in both field goals made and extra points made.
Gaglianone had long been a reliable kicker but struggled this past season, going 10-17 on field goals.
Set to fill those lofty standards is sophomore Collin Larsh, who did not play his freshman season. Larsh has been getting the most work during spring practice. Larsh is in place as the number one guy, but head coach Paul Chryst said, “it’s fair to say there is some competition” between senior kicker Zach Hintze and Larsh.
Chryst spoke highly of both kickers, saying that “both have had really good moments in spring," but there is “still work to be done.”
Senior kicker Zach Hintze saw the field all 13 games, but as the kickoff specialist. Hintze averaged 64.1 yards per kickoff and saw 81 percent of his kickoffs result in touchbacks. As a kicker on field goals, he has only had one attempt — a missed 62-yard field goal to close out the first half at Northwestern.
Throughout spring practice, each player has gotten a chance to land the starting role. To close out the spring this past Friday, Collin Larsh got the most work, but Hintze received a fair number of reps as well.
Chryst noted the kickers need it to have a far different approach to practice, now knowing they both have one shot to become the starter next year.
This past Friday, Larsh finished a practice session going 5-7 on field goals in both scrimmages and in a kicking session to start practice. Hintze matched that effort by going a solid 4-6 on field goals.
Though the race is close, Chryst said that he feels "confident that they’ll come out of spring with a kicker."
The punting group was not where they had wanted it to be either. The Badgers' returning senior punter, Anthony Lotti, only appeared in eight games from the 2018 year because of injuries. Lotti averaged 38.6 yards per punt in those eight games, which would only be good for 96th across all punters in the nation.
When Lotti was injured, the punting a game faltered a bit as returning senior Connor Allen stepped in, but his average of 37.5 yards per punt wasn’t far from Lotti’s averages.
Chryst said in order to find success this year, the kickers and punters “can be and need to be much better.”