Conventional wisdom says the Wisconsin Badgers are going to shove the ball right down your throat. After all, UW has a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back and recent reports indicate that dual-threat quarterback Tanner McEvoy is going to get the start against LSU.
Yet, most seem content to focus all the attention on one part of the “dual” threat, and we’re talking about McEvoy’s ability to run the ball. His athletic ability is well documented and having been on the sidelines to bare witness to him ranging from midfield to sideline for a near interception against BYU, he’s got speed to spare.
Given all of that, it’s only natural to focus on that aspect of the game for McEvoy and the Badgers.
Doing that is what Badgers head coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig are hoping opposing defenses do all season long. That’s because they have confidence in a group they didn’t have a season ago — wide receiver.
Conventional wisdom says the Badgers will struggle in the pass game because Mr. Everything from 2013, Jared Abbrederis, is gone. All that returns are 28 total receptions from wide receivers and that comes from just four players.
Abbrederis had 78 receptions for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns by his lonesome. Those numbers clearly need to be made up, but by whom? No one else stepped up when they had a chance playing next to Abby.
Yet, when speaking to the media at the first Big Ten coaches teleconference of the season Andersen put the reality of Wisconsin’s passing game in 2014 into pretty clear terms:
Wiscy HC Gary Andersen: "We're going to be receiver-by-committee. We're not going to be receiver-by-Jared-Abbrederis."
— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) August 26, 2014
Sounds pretty optimistic considering everything we just laid out for you, huh?
But, there should be reason for optimism with the depth displayed in fall camp. Wisconsin’s pass game was continuously a highlight of fall camp and often times we saw newcomers like Natrell Jamerson and George Rushing pulling down deep ball or tough catches that frankly weren’t being done a season ago.
Something clicked with this group between spring and the fall. Whether it was the realization that playing time would go to anyone that bothered to step up and be consistent or if it was the challenge of three talented freshmen coming in to the program — whatever it was, it seems to have worked.
Critics may point out that doing good things in fall camp is one thing, doing it against an opposing team is another all together. Yet, that would dismiss the fact that Wisconsin’s secondary is deep and successful in their own right.
After all, the wide receivers were going up against a secondary that helped the Badgers to rank third in the Big Ten in pass defense and gave up the second fewest passing touchdowns in the conference (16).
If you can perform well against the likes of Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary on the outside you’ve proven you can perform against quality opposition all around.
One of the biggest names to watch on Saturday will likely be Rushing, who Andersen singled out on Tuesday.
“George Rushing has been very solid for a freshman,” said Andersen. “Picked up on the scheme. He’s handled it well. He’s made big plays consistently. It’ll be fun to see if he can get himself in a spot to be able to hopefully make some plays.”
So, LSU…go ahead and stuff the box in hopes of stopping Gordon, Corey Clement and McEvoy. Just don’t be surprised when you’re getting beat by the pass game instead.