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Wisconsin Football DAWG of the Week vs. Iowa

Somebody on the Wisconsin football team had to win vs. Iowa…right?



Wisconsin Badgers football specialists
Oct 14, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers punter Gavin Meyers (28), long snapper Peter Bowden (47) and place kicker Nathanial Vakos (90) celebrate after a field goal by Vakos against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Football DAWG of the Week series is an opportunity to spotlight players that had a massive impact on the game. Earning this prestigious honor is more than just statistical output.  Its about which Badgers player let that inner DAWG out.

Certainly stats will factor into this weekly award — but this particular accolade is more than who filled up the stat sheet. More simply — what player would not be denied. When a players best was required — who rose to the occasion?

Wisconsin Football Special Teams

What we saw on Saturday shouldn’t have been a surprise as this is exactly how most of these rivalry games tend to go.  The team that is able to limit mistakes and impose their physicality typically is the victor. Admittedly, I don’t know that any of us as BadgerNotes saw this coming with our Wisconsin football vs. Iowa staff predictions for Saturdays game against the Hawkeyes. In what was a clunker from start to finish against a good Iowa football team there were only a few bright spots. One thing that did impress was how calm, cool and collected UW’s specialists remain in tight games.

For most teams to play winning football at the collegiate level its imperative to be sound in all three phases of the football game. It was clear what supreme levels of special teams looks like when you watch the leg swings by Iowa punter, and future NFL Pro Bowler, Tory Taylor on how that can impact the game.

Don’t let Iowa’s most effective offensive player, their punter, lull you into thinking that their unit is an anomaly.

The Wisconsin football specialists have steadily been the unsung heroes of this Wisconsin Badgers team all season and their execution Saturday kept Wisconsin in the football game.

“The Specialists”

For all special teams units – it starts up front with the long snapper. Peter Bowden, the redshirt-senior from San Diego, CA has been a rock up front delivering the football on point for both the holder in the kicking game and the punter. For long snappers, accuracy and laces placement are crucial for the success of the whole operation. When it comes to Bowden, I don’t recall the last time I have seen a bad snap and he has been nothing short of consistent. Yeah, I just jinxed that.

Wisconsin football holder Gavin Meyers, the redshirt-junior from Oshkosh, WI is the middleman and bridge between the snap and the kick and his contributions cannot be understated. The holder is responsible for triggering the snap, catching it, and placing the ball on the predetermined spot by the place kicker. While the laces placement is the job of the long snapper, holders typically just need to receive it within an acceptable window. Good holders, like Meyers, will routinely spin and tilt the ball as needed for the place kicker to drive it through the uprights. Many times this is the portion of the execution where things can go sideways quickly and having a sure-handed holder is paramount for a successful operation.

Place kicking may one of the most stressful positions on the entire football team. You make your kicks– you’re beloved. You miss – people want you cut from the team. Obviously, it’s not the most physical role on the roster but what it lacks in physicality it makes up in the mental fortitude department. Place kickers are relying on the whole operation to be in-sync so they are able to put a good swing on the ball. When kicks go awry, its often the place kicker that gets vilified by fans/media but sometimes its just the shortcomings of the whole unit. For a successful kicking game it takes all three specialists to be fundamentally sound in order to score points.

Wisconsin Place Kicker Nathanial Vakos, the redshirt-freshman and transfer from Ohio, has been excellent this season after joining the Badgers in the offseason.  A previous Wisconsin Football DAWG of the Week winner for his production vs. Washington State, “VAKO BOMBS” booming leg has been as advertised as he has made 10/11 field goals and is a perfect 17/17 on extra points. The entire kicking operation is dialed in and its showing.

After being burned last year by Iowa DB/PR Cooper DeJean both in the pass game and the return game it was of the upmost importance to not let him beat us.  Just last week vs. Michigan State, he retuned a punt for a touchdown and won the game for Iowa. It seemed like the game plan to eliminate his impact was clear – do not kick it to DeJean. Thank goodness the Wisconsin football coaching staff didn’t listen to the noise as their plan was excellent. The Badgers Punter Atticus Bertrams, the freshman from Sydney, Australia did a masterful job of mixing up his punts to DeJean to limit his effectiveness. In concert with a stout coverage the Wisconsin punt team gained 373 yards of field position on eight punts and they held the electric return man to just six yards on two returns.

Wisconsin was able limit self-inflicting penalties for kickoffs out of bounds vs. Iowa. That may sound silly to mention but Wisconsin has struggled mightily this season with multiple kickoffs going out of bounds. These blunders create shorter fields for the defense in transition to defend and allows the opposing offense to use the entire playbook.  It is much more stressful as an offense to be backed up close your own endzone – much like Wisconsin was against Iowa.  Credit to the coaching staff, and more specifically OLB/Special Teams Coach Matt Mitchell for inserting kickoff specialist Gavin Lahm back into the starting kickoff role this week.

Lahm, the sophomore from Kaukauna, WI was the kickoff specialist in 10 games last season with 47 kickoffs that averaged 60.6 yards and 17 touchbacks. Against Iowa, Lahm kicked three touchbacks on three opportunities and most importantly – zero penalties. The execution of his job was just what the Badgers needed to see and its was great to Gavin Lahm ready when he was called upon.

What’s Next for Wisconsin Football?

We may need to reevaluate if these Wisconsin DAWG of the Week segments continue as two of the previous winner have had serious injuries after winning this premier award. Nevertheless, T’s and P’s to our Captain Tanner Mordecai after reports have came out that he indeed broke his right hand and required surgery.

Wisconsin football takes on Big Bert and the Fighting Illini this Saturday in Champaign. The Badgers look to bounce back and stay in the Big Ten West race as they deal with the recent loss of their starting quarterback.

I believe these Badgers will rally together and show up hungry to get back to work and get a win on the road on 10/21 against Illinois.

Previous Wisconsin Badgers DAWG of the Week Award Winners:

Week 1: Chez Mellusi vs. Buffalo 

Week 2: Nathanial Vakos vs. Washington State

Week 3: Hunter Wohler vs. Georgia Southern

Week 4: Tanner Mordecai vs. Purdue

Week 5: BYE

Week 6: Ricardo Hallman vs. Rutgers

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Ryan Eilers covers the Wisconsin Badgers football and wrestling programs for and has had his work published on Bleacher Report. He also makes up 1/4 of the BadgerNotes After Dark podcast crew.