Questions remain in kicking game as Badgers enter summer sessions

Jack Russell returns as the likely starting kicker, but the junior-to-be struggled in spring practices.

Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. — When Jack Russell’s 36-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left during the first half of Wisconsin’s spring game Saturday, the junior-to-be was disappointed in himself. But perhaps more disappointed was his head coach, Gary Andersen.

The typically reserved Andersen, standing behind the play, muttered an expletive that made its way onto the Big Ten Network’s live broadcast of the spring game.

"I was a little bit too zoned in," Russell said. "Probably would have made myself feel a little bit worse if I heard him."

Though Russell rallied to make two field goals during the second half of the scrimmage, the day represented a microcosm of Wisconsin’s kicking game the past two seasons. There are moments for optimism — like Russell’s makes from 41 and 30 yards. And then there are head-scratching moments — like Russell’s miss from 36 yards and later from 44 yards that fell short and left.

Such inconsistency once again leaves many questions unanswered as fall camp approaches.

"I have to have the confidence that I’m going to be the guy," Russell said. "If I don’t, then I shouldn’t be out there. I’m just going to keep working on my field goal technique throughout the summer and just be ready for fall camp."

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Last season, Wisconsin made 14 of 21 field goal attempts, which ranked 10th out of 12 Big Ten teams in field goal accuracy rate (.667 percent). Kyle French struggled early in the season, which paved the way for Russell to take over as the team’s starter.

Though Russell missed his first two kicks, he came on strong late in the season and made 9 of his final 11 field goal tries. His best highlight came late in Wisconsin’s home game against Penn State, when he buried a career-long 48-yard field goal to keep the Badgers within one touchdown. His only two misses over the team’s final five games came from 38 yards out against Minnesota and from 42 yards against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.

"We’ve been fairly solid in the kicking game, and they don’t get challenged a whole bunch in spring," Andersen said following the spring game. "The kicking game, their challenge was the cold weather kicking that they had while we were indoor early in the spring and they were outside in the cold weather.

"But I thought those kids have worked together. They take a lot of pride as a group, and Jack, he’s hitting the ball pretty cleanly. It came off his foot a couple times pretty nice (Saturday). He missed the one, but he also had some very good things going, and I liked the snaps."

So, has Russell done enough to keep the starting kicking job? His only challenger during the spring was sophomore Andrew Endicott, who made his 36-yard field goal try after Russell’s miss. Endicott later missed a 44-yard field goal attempt, and his role could be handling kickoff duties in the fall.

The biggest question is how quickly incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone will take to being a college kicker. The coaching staff was so committed to finding another kicker that Gaglianone will be on scholarship immediately. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, though he kicked in high school for Baylor School in Tennessee.

Gaglianone made 10 of his 14 field-goal attempts this season, with a long of 57 yards. According to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, one of his misses came from 63 yards, which would have been a state record but sailed wide left. He also sent 42 of 44 kickoff attempts through the end zone for touchbacks.

"I don’t know a whole lot," Russell said of Gaglianone. "I’ve seen a little bit of his film, I think from maybe Kohl’s kicking camp. I know he’s a good kicker. They’re not going to bring in some kid that’s not that great for this program. The kid is definitely going to help up the competition and I think make all three of the kickers better."

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