Wisconsin Badgers beat writer Jesse Temple will be analyzing the 30 most important players to the Badgers’ success in the 2015 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list.
Note: This is not a list of the team’s 30 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Wisconsin will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered. The list does not include incoming freshmen because their potential impact is unknown at this time.
No. 14 — Rafael Gaglianone, kicker
Why he’s No. 14
You want to know why a kicker is rated this high on the Badgers’ top 30 list? Consider that in 2012, Wisconsin ranked dead last in the Big Ten in field-goal accuracy rate (10 for 18, .556). And in 2013, UW ranked 10th out of 12 (14 for 21, .667). Now consider that, with Gaglianone inserted as the freshman kicker in 2014, Wisconsin ranked second among 14 Big Ten teams in the same category (19 for 22, .864). It marked the first time Wisconsin ranked in the top five in field-goal percentage since 2008.
The importance of Gaglianone bringing a consistent kicking game to Wisconsin cannot be overstated, particularly because of how much the team struggled in that area in recent years. It’s the difference between a coaching staff having confidence in a kicker around the 35-yard line and being forced to go for it on fourth down, with a much lower success rate.
Expectations for 2015
Gaglianone wowed on the very first day of fall camp last season when he drilled four of five field-goal attempts, two of which came from 50 and 55 yards. He had a memorable debut against LSU when he buried his first college field goal try from 51 yards, becoming only the second UW freshman to make a 50-yarder on his first career attempt.
All the way through the season, Gaglianone was steady, and he made the chip shots he was supposed to, as well. His final two tries, from 29 and 25 yards, helped Wisconsin win the Outback Bowl against Auburn. Overall, Gaglianone’s 1.46 made field goals per game last season ranked second in the Big Ten behind only Penn State’s Sam Ficken. And his accuracy rate was second behind Maryland kicker Brad Craddock, who won the Lou Groza Award for nation’s best kicker.
What can Gaglianone do for an encore? Maintain consistency, for starters. And stay healthy. Gaglianone did not participate in spring practices so he could rest a sore back. His presence truly is a game changer for Wisconsin, which has come to rely on him in so many situations.
What would they do without him?
Andrew Endicott doesn’t have the same leg strength as Gaglianone, but he is accurate and would serve as a capable replacement in a pinch. Endicott missed his only field-goal attempt during the team’s spring game when his 42-yard try hit off the left upright. Last season, he handled the teams kickoffs, so he is used to the pressure of in-game scenarios.
Jack Russell was once considered the future at kicker for Wisconsin, but he struggled with his consistency early in his career. Russell had made 9 of 15 field-goal attempts at Wisconsin but did not earn any opportunities last season with Gaglianone maintaining the starting spot.