On the Beat: Wisconsin K Rafael Gaglianone provides Badgers with luxury many teams envy

So much of the discussion this season about Wisconsin’s football team has focused on either offensive inconsistency or defensive dominance. And while those two storylines certainly have been important, what often becomes lost is the value of special teams.

In particular, having one of the best field goal kickers in the league.

Rafael Gaglianone quietly has put together yet another stellar season. He has made 9 of 11 field goals, including a 52-yarder against Illinois two weeks ago. He also is perfect on all 42 of his extra-point tries. Drama in sports can be fun, but with Gaglianone on the field, the Badgers have been relatively drama free.

That’s a notable development for Wisconsin as it continues its quest for an undefeated regular season and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. With difficult games looming against Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and a Big Ten championship opponent to be determined, one field goal can make the difference between a playoff spot and another New Year’s Six bowl game.

Having a kicker of Gaglianone’s caliber is a luxury that many teams envy. He owns the school record with 4 game-winning field goals, ranks third at Wisconsin in field goal percentage and first in point-after percentage. He has accounted for 69 total points this season, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten. As a means of comparison, Badgers star running back Jonathan Taylor is third with 72 points.

I’ve covered this team through some pretty lean years at kicker, when every field goal attempt felt like an adventure. So for Badgers fans who haven’t considered it, they ought to appreciate the skill set Gaglianone provides.

I remember in 2012 when Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to connect on 10 of 18 field goals, a percentage of 55.6 that ranked last in the Big Ten. The Badgers also missed 3 point-after tries.

Things didn’t improve much in 2013, as French and Russell split duties attempting field goals. Wisconsin made 14 of 21 field goal attempts (66.7 percent), which was better than only two conference teams. The Badgers didn’t make a field goal over their last four games that season, misfiring on attempts against Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska. Wisconsin lost to Ohio State and Penn State in overtime.

Then came Gaglianone, who in 2014 put together one of the best freshman seasons ever by a Wisconsin kicker. He drilled a 51-yarder in his debut against LSU and proceeded to samba his way into the hearts of college football fans. Gaglianone finished the season by making 14 consecutive field goals, which tied Vitaly Pisetski for the longest streak in school history.

To be fair, Gaglianone did not have a strong sophomore campaign in 2015, when he made 18 of 27 attempts (66.7 percent) after missing spring camp, losing leg strength and gaining weight. But he has proven that season was an anomaly. In his three other seasons with the program, Gaglianone has made 35 of 41 field goals (85.3 percent).

If you want to know just how important it is to have a consistent kicker, you don’t have to go back far. Remember that Gaglianone missed Wisconsin’s final 11 games last season because he required season-ending back surgery. Andrew Endicott, a senior, took over the kicking duties even though he hadn’t kicked field goals since he was a senior in high school. He filled in admirably, but during one stretch of the season, he made only 4 of 9 field goals.

Endicott also missed an extra point in overtime against Nebraska. That is lost to history because the Badgers stopped the Cornhuskers on a fourth-down pass in the end zone to preserve a 23-17 victory.

I talked to Gaglianone during the offseason about how he worked meticulously to return to his old form. He told me it required time to gain back confidence that his back wouldn’t give way during a kick. Gaglianone steadily ramped up his training, and now he resembles the kicker we saw during his freshman season in 2014.

Gaglianone’s long-range ability also changes how Wisconsin can strategize during a game. If the Badgers reach the opponent’s 35-yard line, coaches don’t have to pause about whether to go for it on fourth down or even punt. With Gaglianone on the field, the Badgers believe they have a chance to add three points to the scoreboard. So as the home stretch arrives, keep in mind that Gaglianone could be a difference-maker for the most important games of the season.

Given what has happened in previous years, it is a luxury Badgers fans shouldn’t take for granted.

The post On the Beat: Wisconsin K Rafael Gaglianone provides Badgers with luxury many teams envy appeared first on Land of 10.

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