Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 11/5/11
MADISON, Wis. The sound descending from the bleachers onto the football field at Camp Randall Stadium struck a peculiar tone late in the first quarter on Saturday afternoon, and it was one most Badgers players aren't accustomed to hearing from their devoted home faithful.Under any other circumstance, in fact, perhaps they could've been confused with a similar, more upbeat noise. Were people emphatically yelling "Toooooon" for Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon? Were they screaming "ooooh" in celebration of a jarring downfield hit?Nope. Not quite.That sound was the unmistakable "boo" of disapproval following yet another Wisconsin special teams breakdown, this time on kickoff coverage. And although it didn't ultimately affect the outcome during Wisconsin's 62-17 manhandling against Purdue, it reinforced what the Badgers have learned all too well in the past few weeks.One minor mistake a missed tackle, a missed blocking assignment, a missed field goal is the difference between contending for the Sugar Bowl, site of this year's national championship, and the Outback Bowl, postseason site of this year's third-place Big Ten team.For a Wisconsin team that so clearly excels in so many areas the Badgers amassed 605 yards of total offense on Saturday, and running back Montee Ball scored three touchdowns to tie the single-season rushing record at Wisconsin with 24 special teams play remains its biggest bugaboo. "Kind of like the last kick a week ago, missed tackles kill you," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "You just can't have missed tackles on kickoff coverage. We're going to have to evaluate our personnel and also what we're doing with our alignments and our coverage rules."On Saturday, Purdue's Raheem Mostert represented Wisconsin's antagonist, returning his first kickoff attempt 49 yards into Wisconsin territory at the 41-yard-line.Two plays later, the Boilermakers (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) were celebrating their first touchdown of the game, which tied the score at 7-7.And just when Wisconsin (7-2, 3-2) regained the lead, at 14-7, Mostert sliced through the coverage on the ensuing kickoff for 74 yards, all the way down to the Badgers' 16-yard-line. That runback at the 3:24 mark of the first quarter drew the ire of the 80,566 fans in attendance, who booed lustily for perhaps the only time this season at home, where the Badgers are a perfect 6-0. "You obviously hear it, but you just don't hang your head on that," said Badgers senior Adam Hampton, a member of the kickoff team. "We get on each other saying, Do your job, the next play, we've got it the next time.' That's what we're going for every time. We're trying to go down there and make a play."Bielema did not sound pleased when addressing the fans' decision to boo the home team on Saturday. "I'm personally not a fan of any fan booing, but obviously I understand if they don't like what they see," Bielema said. "The biggest thing we have to do is correct what's going on."Despite the jeers from fans, Wisconsin's defense held Purdue to a field goal, which trimmed the deficit to 14-10. The Badgers outscored the Boilermakers, 48-7, the rest of the way, making any special teams gaffes an afterthought among those fans who hung around until the end. "I think the big thing was as a defense we didn't flinch because of it," Badgers defensive lineman Ethan Hemer said. "We bowed up and we made plays when we needed to hold them."Still, the inability to execute on the most basic of special teams plays is cause for concern, and a couple of possible reasons exist for the breakdown. For the first time this season, the Badgers' coaching staff opted to use Phillip Welch as the place kicker instead of Alec Lerner, who struggled with kicking duties earlier in the season. Welch's first-quarter kickoff that resulted in the 74-yard return reached only the 10-yard-line. A slew of missed tackles accounted for the rest of the runback.If any team should understand the perilous pendulum swings associatedwith such mistakes, it's the Badgers.Blocked punts in consecutive games against Michigan State and Ohio State led to touchdowns for opponents. Neither game was decided by more than six points. But both resulted in losses for Wisconsin, which dropped the team from sixth in the BCS standings to 20th, out of the national championship picture. The Badgers also allowed a 42-yard kickoff return a week ago to help set up Ohio State's game-winning touchdown in the final minute. On Saturday, the punt coverage did not experience any major breakdowns. For the first time in three games, Wisconsin did not have a punt blocked. Badgers sophomore Beau Allen replaced junior Robert Burge, the right blocker who was beaten on the shield protection the past two games, and the decision paid off.Now if only the Badgers could perfect their problematic kickoff coverage, fans wouldn't have any reasons left to boo.
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