For the second time this season, University of Wisconsin senior Brandon Williams was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
Williams returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown Saturday in the Badgers’ 41-24 win over Indiana. That return gave UW a 17-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Williams finished the game with four punt returns for 86 yards and one kickoff return for 21 yards. He also caught six passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Williams was the conference’s Co-Special Teams Player of the Week Sept. 12, after returning a punt for a touchdown against Temple.
Sophomore kicker Taylor Mehlhaff and sophomore reserve cornerback Ben Strickland shared Wisconsin’s team special teams player of the week honor with Williams.
Mehlhaff made field goals from 38 and 43 yards out and connected on all five of his extra point attempts. He also averaged 59 yards per kickoff on eight attempts and helped limit IU’s dynamic kick returner, Lance Bennett, to less than 20 yards per attempt (four kick returns for 77 yards).
Strickland assisted on two special teams tackles and made the clinching block on Williams’ punt return for touchdown.
Williams also shared UW’s offensive player of the week honor, giving him four team player of the week honors this season (three special teams, one offense). Senior receiver Jonathan Orr was the co-offensive honoree, after catching four passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Mark Zalewski and sophomore defensive tackle Nick Hayden shared the Badgers’ defensive player of the week honor. Zalewski had seven tackles, including an amazing four for loss. Hayden had a career-high six tackles, with two for loss. In the third quarter Saturday, Hayden forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
UW’s scout team players of the week were sophomore Andrew Weininger (offense) and true freshman Prince Moody (defense).
Injuries adding up
UW head coach Barry Alvarez said Monday afternoon that the ankle injury sophomore reserve fullback Chris Pressley suffered Saturday “wasn’t as bad as it was believed to be. I think he should be okay.”
With starting fullback senior Matt Bernstein expected to miss several weeks with what is believed to be a shoulder injury, Pressley and freshman Bill Rentmeester will need to hold down the position. Pressley and Rentmeester are listed as co-starters this week on UW’s official depth chart.
“Nothing’s changed with Bernstein. It’ll be a little while with Bernie,” Alvarez said.
UW’s starting tight end, senior Owen Daniels, went down with an ankle injury on the Badgers’ first play from scrimmage Saturday. Alvarez said he had not yet received a report on Daniels’ status.
As the season wears on, every team has to deal with injuries, but the Badgers’ woes are mounting rapidly, and for the second consecutive week they will face a team coming off its bye week.
“I’m not crazy about that,” Alvarez said. “I am very sensitive to us wearing down and the number of injuries that we have, particularly the key people. So we are going to change our practice format. We’re going to change some of the things we do in lifting. But I’ll change the practice format drastically this week.”
In addition to Bernstein and potentially Daniels, UW is without top defensive tackle Justin Ostrowski (knee, has been out all season), top defensive end Jamal Cooper (torn ACL) and reserve defensive tackle Mark Gorman. Strong safety Joe Stellmacher, who has started three games this season, missed Saturday’s game while recovering from a shoulder “stinger” suffered in UW’s win over Michigan two weeks ago.
“There’s a chance for Stellmacher this week,” Alvarez said. “He has been showing steady improvement.”
Hampton fills in at captain
Bernstein’s absence Saturday removed one of the Badgers’ four captains from the lineup. Alvarez elected to fill that slot that day with junior Zach Hampton, a reserve safety who thrives as part of every Badger special team.
“When Bernie was injured and wasn’t going to dress, I just thought to myself our special teams have been playing very well and they’ve given us tremendous effort,” Alvarez said. “I wanted to reward someone, acknowledge someone who exemplified the effort that we look for in the special teams. And that’s what Zach has done. He isn’t the most gifted athlete that we have, yet he just takes so much pride in how he plays, he’s on every special team, and I just thought it would send a strong message to our special team guys that we appreciate them and that’s the type of effort and that’s the type of play that we’re looking for.”