by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
With the Northwestern offense rolling through three games, punter Brandon Williams hasn’t had his number called very often this season. Of course, that’s a good thing for the Wildcats, but on the rare occasion that Williams has been called to duty, he’s helped keep momentum on his team’s side.
Williams is averaging just 38.8 yards on 13 punts this season, but that relatively low average has been due to field position. He has two punts of over 50 yards and has pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line six times. Last week, with NU up by six late in the fourth quarter, Williams pinned Boston College on its own one-yard line. The Eagles were forced to punt out of their own endzone, leading to good field position and a touchdown for the Cats. His only other punt of the day was also near-perfect, but it bounced into the endzone for a touchback.
“Now the one punt was my fault — I should have backed up, I should have taken a delay of game,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Now, they could decline it, but I should have taken a delay of game to help us out; we should have gotten two punts inside the five.”
Regardless of who gets the blame, Williams is taking responsibility for improving NU’s punting game and ultimately improving on his consistency from 2011. He’s already on track for 24 punts inside the 20, compared to 14 last year.
“I think we definitely have (gotten better at pinning teams deep),” Williams said, “That’s something we worked on in the offseason. The other one that ended up going in the endzone (against Boston College) had a chance, so I think we definitely are doing a better job of that. I know last year we struggled with it a little bit when we were down close, letting the ball go in the endzone. But I think definitely this year we’re better at it.”
Consistency, in general, was an issue last year for NU’s punting game. Williams showed this potential with a 77-yard punt at one point, but also had too many 20-and-30 yarders. The inconsistency was most evident against Illinois, when he had a 65-yarder and an 11-yarder in the same game.
Has that consistency improved this year?
“Yeah, definitely,” Williams said. “At least, from my viewpoint it definitely has been. (I’ve) just worked on a lot of stuff this summer just to help me get there, but I definitely think it’s been better. I’m just working on a couple things with my drop, just to help with consistency, again, and then doing just a couple different things, working with Jeff (Budzien) holding-wise just to make sure all that is in order.”
However, Williams recognizes the need for improvement in other areas beyond pinning teams deep.
“I think he’s pretty critical of himself right now that he’d like to have his average a little higher,” Fitzgerald said.
Right now, Williams’ average is two yards shorter than it was last year. A lot of that is situational — it’s been better for the team at points for him to kick it short to avoid a touchback.
“Last week was tough because we had two short punts trying to pin them deep, so that doesn’t help anything, but before that, yeah, definitely,” Williams said. “The Vanderbilt game I had just one or two punts, so it was definitely a little off — brought it down a bit — but other than that, just a few more yards would definitely be good to help the team.”
Those yards will likely come with a larger sample size, but overall, NU’s punting game has been vastly improved in the aspect that counts the most with punters — consistency.
“So far it’s been a good season,” Williams said. “Off to a good start.”
As long as the NU offense keeps rolling, Williams won’t be very busy. But if his upward trajectory continues, the Cats will be happy to know they can count on someone to bail them out after the occasional third down stop.