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Wisconsin football 2020 review/2021 preview: special teams

Our first in a lengthy series wrapping up the 2020 football season while giving a quick look ahead to next year.

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

2020 starters

  • K, Collin Larsh, junior
  • P, Andy Vujnovich, junior
  • KOS, Jack Van Dyke, freshman
  • LS, Adam Bay, senior
  • KR, Devin Chandler, freshman
  • PR, Dean Engram, RS freshman
Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin
Devin Chandler
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

2020 statistics

  • Larsh, 5-for-7 on field goals with a long of 31; 23-of-23 on extra points; Van Dyke had his only FGA attempt blocked in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl
  • Vujnovich, 34 punts for 1,419 yards (41.7 avg.) with a long of 60; 10 punts fair caught, 14 downed inside the 20 and five were 50+
  • Van Dyke, 34 kickoffs for 2,069 yards (60.9 avg.) with 16 touchbacks; average return was 21.1 yards and average starting field position was the 25-yard line; Conor Schlichting punted twice (for 65 yards) and both were fair caught inside the 20
  • Chandler, six kick returns for 156 yards (26 avg.) with a long of 59; Stephan Bracey, six kick returns for 114 yards (19 avg.) with a long of 33
  • Engram, nine punt returns for 14 yards (1.5 avg.) with a long of five; Danny Davis III had two punt returns for nine yards (4.5 avg.) with a long of nine

2020 season review

Since special teams is a large and diverse position group to be lumped into one post I will just be doing each position as a bullet point. How long each bullet point will be will depend on how angry I am about the performance this past season.

  • Kicker: Larsh was fine this year. He doesn’t quite have the leg strength to be considered a “weapon” yet as he missed his only two field goal attempts longer than 31 yards, but he made all of the rest of his kicks and, honestly, that’s just fine.
  • Punter: Vujnovich’s first FBS season was kind of a wild ride. He bombed a bunch of kicks, that led friends of mine to declare he was the only useful player on the team at times, but he also shanked some badly and gave the opposition great field position. Overall, The Vujnovich Experience was a decidedly good one, but with a little more consistency next year he should compete for all-conference honors.
  • Kickoff specialist: Van Dyke was in a no-win situation this year having to replace the greatest kickoff specialist in Wisconsin history, Zach Hintze, as there was a 99.9% chance he would be worse than Hintze. And, he was, but not be some crazy amount! Just under half of his kickoffs were touchbacks (including all five in the bowl game, momentum baby!) and the opponent’s average starting field position was still the 25 sooooo, shout out to the kick coverage team!
  • Long snapper: Bay is amazing and the Badgers will miss him.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Wisconsin at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Kick returner: The Badgers shuffled through a couple of options to return kicks this year and their final choice, the freshman Chandler, seems like he could see more opportunities next year. His 59-yard return in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl was awesome and he genuinely has some juice when he fields kicks. It would have been nice to still have Rutgers WR/KR Aron Cruickshank on the team, but there wasn’t really a path to him playing major snaps at wideout in Madison, something he clearly wanted.
  • Punt returner: I don’t know what was going on with the punt returns this year. With Jack Dunn thrust into the starting lineup at wideout, the Badgers were forced to try out some new players and, well, they didn’t really do anything. Engram averaged 1.5 yards per return and that is just a laughable stat. It’s a shame that Dunn needed to play so much at wideout (although he did acquit himself nicely there) because he had been steadily improving as a punt returner.

2021 season preview

I’ll keep this brief as we will go into greater detail about the 2021 roster later in the offseason, but there won’t be very much turnover for UW in the special teams department in 2021. The only starter they are slated to lose is the long snapper and while he was excellent, the Badgers do have two others on the roster already who have hopefully been learning from Bay.

2020 was by no means a great year for the Badgers special teams but I don’t think it was one of their worst either. With another offseason of practice under their belts, next year could move Wisconsin closer to the top of the conference in special teams play.