Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 10/12/11
MADISON, Wis. A Big Ten caliber football player who excels at his craft invariably wants to display those talents to an audience every Saturday. Given all the time spent honing those abilities alone in practice, its only natural to yearn for a stadium filled with nearly 80,000 screaming fans. Brad Nortman sees himself as no different. Problem is, his Wisconsin teammates have been so good at their craft on offense that Nortman, the teams punter, has barely been able to step on the field at all. He is at the mercy of circumstances beyond his control an offense that scores 48.4 points per game, the third-best mark in the country. Consequently, Nortmans punting opportunities have taken a dive. Nortman has just 10 punts this season two per game for the undefeated Badgers. That number represents the fewest punts for any FBS team in the country. It is a little bit strange, but its strange in a good way, Nortman said. Ive got to say Im not surprised just because of how good our offense is and how fun they are to watch. You could say that Im our offenses No. 1 spectator, too, because I love seeing them do well. Nortman, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior from Brookfield, Wis., has handled every punt for the Badgers in the last four years, starting as a true freshman. He ranks third in school history with a career punting average of 42.1 yards. Of his 10 punts this season, just one has been returned. Nortmans average punt this season measures 43.0 yards. That punting average would rate as the 28th-best in FBS if he qualified for the category Purdues Cody Webster is first at 48.11. However, in order for Nortman to even be considered among the top punters nationally, he is required to punt at least 3.6 times per game. Obviously, the punter is probably not happy because he doesnt get to do his job, Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon said. That means were having success as a team. Its definitely something we want to keep doing throughout the rest of the year. Its not necessarily a bad thing to have happen. A couple of telling statistics can explain Nortmans low number of punting attempts. Most obviously, the offense is scoring at a phenomenal clip, which doesnt leave much time for punting. But the Badgers also rank second in the country in third-down percentage on their way to the end zone, converting 36-of-58 third-down attempts (62.1 percent). Those conversions, of course, give the Badgers a new set of downs and keep Nortman on the sideline. Every time we have a third down, whether its two or 15 yards to go, I always assume were going to punt so I can get in the right frame of mind, Nortman said. Every third down, we gather the punt team and figure out what call were going to do. I get mentally prepared every time. I just tend to get let down a lot. Nortman punted a season-high four times against Oregon State and twice against UNLV and Nebraska. He trotted onto the field for just one punt against both Northern Illinois and South Dakota. To put Nortmans punting attempts into perspective, all it requires is a quick examination of some recent numbers from three other Big Ten punters who cant seem to stay off the field. Ohio States Ben Buchanan, Minnesotas Dan Orseske and Indianas Adam Pines each punted 10 times in one game on Oct. 1. Buchanans punts came against Michigan State, Orseskes against Michigan and Pines against Penn State. Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema said Nortmans lack of punting attempts are not indicative of his value to the team. Brad is as mentally tough as Ive seen, Bielema said. Hes been really good. He handles the pooch game as well. It brings down his average, and he doesnt even think about that. I always take my bye week to get a perspective on things. I reached out to the two senior bowl games to let them know, Dont bypass my punter because he doesnt have the numbers. Dont penalize him for (us) being good on offense. Nortman said his typical positioning on the field for punts has changed considerably during his time with the Badgers. In other words, he usually finds himself now with less of a field to work with during his attempts because of the offenses ability to move the ball. Thats the thing is that even last year and this year, a lot of my punts are pooch punts, Nortman said. Even if we dont score on a certain drive, we tend to get positive yardage. Thats made me want to improve my craft for pooch punting even more. Thats an important aspect. For our defense to start against their offense inside the 10 is just invaluable. Nortman has also seen a decrease in his punting attempts each season at Wisconsin no coincidence considering the Badgers win total has increased in each of those seasons, from seven to 10 to 11. He punted 66 times as a freshman, 49 times as a sophomore and 38 times a year ago as a junior. He is on pace for just 28 punts this season, assuming Wisconsin plays a 14-game schedule, which would include a Big Ten championship and a bowl game. Nortman says hell be ready when or, at this pace, if he receives another opportunity. Even though I only have 10 punts through five games, which isnt a lot, it makes me want to take advantage of every punt that much more, Nortman said. Because I know that our offense is so good, my attempts will be rare. I want to make sure that on each and every one, I can make an impact.
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