Big Red Machine

Leading the country with a .854 touchdown percentage (41-of-48 attempts) inside the 20, No.16 Wisconsin and sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen did nothing to hurt its rankings, scoring touchdowns on all six trips inside the 20 to cruise to a 42-13 victory over Minnesota Saturday.

MINNEAPOLIS - Nearly every time the success was brought up in the visiting locker room at TCF Bank Stadium, a Wisconsin offensive threat would give a nervous smile, a little roll of the eye or knock on any hard substance nearest to them: a block of wood, concrete or on the handle of Paul Bunyan's Axe.

When it comes to success inside the 20-yard line, the Badgers are pitching something of a no hitter and they don't want anybody to jinx it.

"We just think the lineman want to get back to the bench to get some water, which is why they are so fired up to get in the end zone," tight end Jacob Pedersen said. "We just want it more. We take pride in that. You have to score touchdowns in the red zone to have success."

Leading the country with a .854 touchdown percentage (41-of-48 attempts) inside the 20, No.16 Wisconsin did nothing to hurt its rankings, scoring touchdowns on all six trips inside the 20 to cruise to a 42-13 victory over Minnesota Saturday.

Fourth in the country in red-zone scoring, Wisconsin has now scored on 52 of 54 (96.3 percent) inside the 20-yard line and improving their nation-leading red-zone touchdown percentage to 87 percent.

"I don't know if there's a team in college football that practices as much red zone as we do," said coach Bret Bielema. "I would be surprised, offensively and defensively."

There's little question the running game has had a big part in the plunge over the goal line. Of Wisconsin's 54 red zone scores, the running game has punched in 16 times from three yards or less, including 14 from junior tailback Montee Ball, but there's little debate that senior quarterback Russell Wilson has enhanced the offense, including the play-action pass.

That's just fine by Pedersen, who has been reaping the benefits of having a strong running game and a veteran quarterback. Entering the weekend tied for second among tight ends in the country with seven scores, Pedersen added to his total with a 3-yard grab in the third quarter to make the score 35-13.

"He's extremely talented all around the field in terms of his blocking, his speed, his hands and he always wants the ball," said senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw for 178 yards and four touchdowns. "He's determined to be great, and it's fun to see him play."

Adding 10 pounds to his frame this season to become a better blocking tight end, Pedersen's extra weight has been a big benefit in sealing blocks and opening running lanes. Watching film from the Gophers' shocking 22-21 upset over Iowa two weeks ago, Pedersen recognized Minnesota often changed coverages and blitzes when Iowa was inside the 20-yard line.

It was a factoid that frustrated Iowa, as the Hawkeyes converted on just three of their six chances inside the 20, including a missed 24-yard field goal, a fumble and a third-down sack that led to a 43-yard missed field goal, and something that Pedersen recognized and neutralized on four touchdown runs.

"I can tell that it helps big time," said Pedersen, who weighted as much as 250 pounds in the spring. "I just felt stronger, I felt bigger and I have the speed along with the strength with the weight."

Added Bielema: "I think he does a great job of selling our run in pass action, and that's what gets him open so much at times."

Of Pedersen's eight touchdowns, only one has been longer than 10 yards and of his 35 career catches, 10 have gone for a touchdowns (one every 3.5 catches).

"He has a nice feel for things and has a knack for making himself an option, always getting himself open and someone a quarterback can count on," tight end Joe Rudolph said. "He's a competitor and if you are picking someone to jump in and do something, no matter what it is, he would be one of the first guys you would pick on the team. That's how he plays."

This whole preparation week brought back positive memories for Pedersen. Two years ago during his redshirt season, Pedersen, frustrated with his performance on scout team and home sick, was ready to walk away from the game. His plan was to return home to Menominee, Michigan, and play baseball and become a mortician.

The renaissance came from a pep talk from Rudolph, breaking out of his shell by starting to meet people and enjoy the work he was putting in. Whether by chance of design, the coaches gave Pedersen a chance after he originally announced his intentions to walk away, letting him mimic Gophers receiver Eric Decker in 2009.

Pedersen made a ton of plays in practice, realized that he could have an impact and was named UW's co-offensive scout team player of the week. It has been his personal launching point.

"Looking back where I was my freshman year to where I am now, I still have a long way to go and I am a little bit bigger now, but it's the same characteristics I was working on as a freshman I am trying to work on now," Pedersen said. "You can always get better."

With two years left, there's little doubt he will.


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