Needing a Number Two

Wisconsin's passing game runs through junior Jared Abbrederis but with the receiver questionable for tonight's game against Utah State, the Badgers need somebody to step up to the plate.

MADISON - For as fiery and demanding a personality wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni uses on the practice field with his players, the thought that not using inexperience as an excuse is somewhat eye opening. The way Azzanni sees it, that's the only thing he can do with a group full of talented, but extremely young, players.

"I hadn't used it as an excuse because it's a reality," said Azzanni. "We don't talk to them about it. We're still building slowly."

A look at Wisconsin two-deep lineup at wide receiver lists three wide receiver positions with either a freshman or a sophomore listed as the starter or the backup. Of the six possible positions, three are occupied by redshirt freshmen who have a grand total of two career games under their belt. "You have to believe in those kids," said Azzanni. "We wouldn't have recruited them if we didn't."

Through Wisconsin's first two games, wide receivers have caught 21 of 39 completed passes (53.8 percent). Of those 21 completions, however, seven each have gone to Jared Abbrederis and junior Jeff Duckworth, meaning UW's youth has yet to make a solid imprint.

The connection between junior quarterback Danny O'Brien and Abbrederis have developed through two games is evident. Abbrederis is tied for the team lead with seven receptions and leads the team in receiving yards (110) and touchdowns (two). Wisconsin's other two starting wideouts, Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe, have a combined seven catches for 80 yards.

And with Abbrederis doubtful for tonight's game against Utah State (2-0) while still recovering from a slight concussion suffered in last week's loss, Wisconsin's offense is going to need a young playmaker t find his footing.

"Those guys are going to have to step up and you can tell they are eager to make a name for themselves, too," said O'Brien. They are very young, they work really hard and they are coached really hard. It's a matter of time until they step up and start making plays. I have a lot of confidence in them.

"Losing Abby is big, but the slogan here is ‘next man in.' Somebody is going to have to step up and I know they will."

While UW hopes to get redshirt freshman A.J. Jordan and true freshman Reggie Love into the mix, the player that Wisconsin will need to take a step forward is Duckworth. Duckworth was the prime beneficiary after Abbrederis went down with his injury Saturday, catching a career-high seven passes for 55 yards.

"I have to lead the group," said Duckworth. "It's a great opportunity for me to get a lot of reps and try to earn a starting spot Saturday if Jared can't go."

In the same breath, Duckworth recognizes that his yards came slowly and without a big play. Through two games and 131 offensive plays, Wisconsin has only five plays (four pass, one rush) that have exceeded 20 yards, one of which that has gone for a score. Running the same number of offensive plays, UW's opponents have eight plays over 20 yards, three of which have gone for a touchdown.

"That's definitely disappointing, especially for me," said Duckworth. "Against Oregon State, we had a lot of man coverage, a lot of opportunities that we didn't take advantage of. That's something we knew coming into the game that we had to take advantage of and we didn't."

Not only does Wisconsin need to boost its balance, it needs to finish its drives. On the first drive of the season, Wisconsin sustained a 14-play, 61-yard drive that chewed up seven minutes, 19 seconds of clock. The drive ended when tight end Brian Wozniak dropped a red-zone pass on third down, forcing UW to settle for 1 32-yard field goal.

"We just have to finish. We have to finish in the red zone," Azzanni. "Hopefully this is a wake-up call for a lot of guys. We're not that far off.

"Nothing is broke right now. We just have some loose ends we're trying to shore up and get better at."

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