UW kicker Russell's confidence cresting
ORLANDO, Fla.—When Gary Andersen called on Jack Russell to attempt a 31-yard field goal in the final minute of Wisconsin’s demolition of Tennessee Tech in Week 2, UW’s first-year head coach wasn’t looking to run up the score.
Rather, he was giving Russell an opportunity to show he could execute in front of a crowd of more than 70,000 fans. Starter Kyle French had missed one of two attempts in the opener, had missed an extra-point attempt against Tennessee Tech and wasn’t hitting the ball cleanly.
Russell responded by missing the 31-yarder when the ball hit the right upright—not exactly the result Andersen wanted to see.
Yet as No. 19 UW (9-3) prepares to face No. 8 South Carolina (10-2) Wednesday in the Capital One Bowl, the sophomore kicker from Waunakee is both confident and dependable.
“Jack is focused,” Andersen said. “I’m not going to sit here and say that we’ve tried to do anything different.
“I think confidence is a big thing when you’re a kicker—the ability to walk out and make them in crunch-time situations.”
Russell, who has made eight of his last nine kicks and is 8 of 11 overall this season, rediscovered his confidence in Game 8 at Iowa.
He drilled a 54-yard attempt on the final play of the first half, but the play was wiped out because Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz called a timeout before the snap.
After two more Iowa timeouts, Russell’s kick fell short.
However, the memory of the successful attempt provided Russell a jolt he needed.
“I really think that just watching it go through gave me the confidence that it is as easy as it looks,” he said. “I just kind of took off from there. That gave me that little bit of boost to actually put one through.
“I was over-thinking a lot and really didn’t give myself the best opportunity to go out and make field goals like I do in practice.”
Russell, 0-for-2 as a freshman, made his next seven attempts after the 28-9 victory at Iowa.
“It’s like anything in life I suppose,” Andersen said. “When you have some success … even when he misses he is striking the ball clean.
“He is growing as a kicker.”
Russell missed from 38 yards at Minnesota, his third kick of the day, but rebounded with a 48-yard kick the next week in the loss to Penn State.
That kick showed Russell the staff trusted him.
UW trailed, 31-21, and faced fourth-and-10 from the Penn State 30 with less than five minutes remaining. Andersen decided the prudent move was to get three points and try for the tying touchdown later.
“That showed they had confidence in me,” Russell said. “Instead of going for it and trying to get a touchdown, they put me out there and gave me an opportunity to give us a chance.”
The forecast for Wednesday calls for a high of 75 with little wind.
Asked to estimate his maximum distance, the 6-foot, 172-pound Russell smiled.
“If there is absolutely no wind,” he said, “I can make it from 57.”
If Russell sounds confident in his ability, it is because he is.
“I really have to have that kind of confidence,” he said. “If I don’t have that confidence then my teammates won’t have that confidence, and I’m not going to be able to put my best foot forward and give the team the best opportunity to score points.”