Every college football Saturday is exciting as teams look for matchups to exploit in what traditionally is the game within the game for coaches and players alike.
This year we at B5Q will dive into one pivotal matchup to keep an eye on as the Wisconsin Badgers work their way through their non-conference and Big Ten portions of their 2021 football schedule.
While all of the various phases of a game are incredibly important, there are normally a few specific matchups that can make or break a game for a particular side. This weekly feature will highlight one of those matchups in greater detail as we preview the upcoming weekend.
This week the matchup is a bit different, as we highlight Rutgers punter Adam Korsak and the Wisconsin punt return team.
The case for Adam Korsak
Focusing on a punter is a bit irregular for this weekly primer, but Rutgers punter Adam Korsak is a certified weapon. Just last week he earned Big Ten honors for his performance against Illinois, and he is one of the top candidates for the Ray Guy Award which is annually presented to the top punter in college football.
In a game where offense and field position come at a premium, Korsak’s play could be incredibly important. Through eight-game he is averaging around 47.5 yards per punt, with 16 kicks of over 50 yards and 23 inside his opponent’s 20-yard line. Against Illinois last week he pinned the Fighting Illini inside the 20 on four separate occasions, with two inside the four-yard line.
Rutgers does not have an overly imposing offense, so Korsak has been tasked with punting an average of five times per game. His ability to flip field position can really shift a game, and he enters this week leading the nation in net punting.
What makes Korsak interesting to watch is that he punts from different platforms and his ball knuckles quite a bit when it bounces, which can spell trouble for a return team.
The punting game might be an unusual choice for the matchup this week, but he is one of the nation's best at a position that can be incredibly impactful. The punting ability of Jordan Stout from Penn State was extremely influential in the outcome of the opening game loss for the Badgers, and Korsak is another valuable specialist in the league that can have that level of impact.
The case for the Wisconsin special teams
Wisconsin’s punt return unit has had it’s fair share of snafus this year. Additionally, the Badgers rank No. 107 nationally in punt returns at five yards per return.
While the results are not great, last week against Iowa there was progress. I thought Dean Engram, the primary return man, did a much better job of communicating with the rest of the return team and he also made some tremendous decisions in terms of when to catch it, and when to act as a decoy and let the ball roll into the end zone.
With Rutgers punter Adam Korsak’s punting acumen, Engram and the rest of the return unit will be tested. Korsak is good at generating bounces that consistently work in his favor, putting added attention to decision making from the return team.
However, because Korsak has a big leg, and Rutgers might punt more frequently given the way that the Badgers defense is playing, there may be opportunities for Engram to return the ball a bit more in this game.
Engram was a very good punt returner in high school, and he has notched a 20-yard punt return this season against Eastern Michigan. If Wisconsin’s return unit can not make a mistake, and limit the impact that Adam Korsak can have on the game, it could pay major dividends. The over/under is currently very low for the game Saturday, so field position will be an important factor throughout.