LOS ANGELES - Kicking off the plush grass at Pasadena's Rose Bowl, sophomore Kyle French could think of few place better suited for a kicker. He also couldn't think of a better place to make amends for a mentally taxing season.
"I've definitely been on a roller coaster," said French. "I've had some good days in practice and some bad days. Obviously what I have done so far hasn't been what I've wanted to do."
Practicing in front of the media in the days leading up to Tuesday's Rose Bowl, true freshman Jack Russell worked with the top field goal unit while French worked kickoffs. French has proven to have the strongest leg, but 10-for-16 on field goals (.625) and 38-for-40 on extra points (.950) this season has put him in the passenger's seat, for now, in the Rose Bowl.
French calls this year his "sophomore slump," but isn't content that the sag in his performance has been his own doing, even when it was announced during Saturday's media day that Russell will handle the field goal and extra points while French will handle the kickoffs.
"It's my spot to earn back," said French. "It's myself that put myself in the hole, (but) it's always a competition between us. My confidence comes out in earning my spot back completely. Jack and I have been in a competition throughout the whole season, so it's self motivation to just push myself to the next level to win it out completely."
Hesitant to tweak details in his kicking game throughout the season in fear of further messing up his approach or delivery, French has used the off time to correct minor details and flaws he and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who also works with the specialists, noticed in his kicking game.
They were minor corrections he hopes will shake him out of a late season slump that had put Wisconsin's kicking game in question.
"I've had a rough stretch these past couple games," said French. "I just want to prove to the coaches and teammates that I am a reliable kicker."
This isn't the first time French has been under the spotlight. After missing two field goals at Purdue, French was in danger of losing his kicking job. He responded by making his next five kicks, including a 42-yard attempt against Michigan State.
Over the last three games, however, French has missed a kick in each game, including a field goal that could have made the difference in the overtime loss to Ohio State and severely hooked a 44-yard attempt that failed to extend overtime at Penn State.
"When you have games like Penn State when you are on the sideline for most of the second half until you are calling upon to kick a crucial extra point and a game-tying field goal, it's tough to continue to keep staying loose," French said about the challenges of standing on the sideline. "It's a lot nicer when you are blowing a team out by 70 and a bunch of opportunities to get out there.
"The Ohio State game, I didn't want to blame myself for the loss, but I knew I had a big part in that loss. I should have excelled at that point when the team needed me."
French admitted that Partridge doesn't know a ton of details about kicking, but French credited getting both him and Russell acclimated to the mental side.
"I think we are both mentally prepared for either starting or not," said French. "He helped me when I was struggling at the start of the year, telling m to always focus on the next kicks. It used to be a shock to us mentally, thinking we would be taking out if we missed a kick. Jack and I each trust him to make the right decision."