A Tight-Knit Group

With three seniors, including 2012 Big Ten tight end of the year Jacob Pedersen, and an experienced junior, the Wisconsin tight ends could be the deepest group in the country.

TEMPE, Ariz. - Despite prime examples of each category, Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave didn't have an answer as to what he preferred: a long sustained drive that uses up clock and wears down the defense or a big strike that takes the wind out of an opponent.

As long as the ball crosses the goal line, Stave isn't going to argue with Wisconsin's methods.

"If we can come out the first play and hit a big touchdown pass, that's a ton of momentum and a big play for us," he said. "When you can sustain a long drive, make some big third downs and make a touchdown, it takes a lot of steam out of their defense and gives our defense time to rest."

The versatility of Wisconsin's offense through two games of the regular season is easily noticed: three running backs over 100 yards each game, catches from 11 different players and receiving touchdowns from three different targets.

But as offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig works to develop the identity and big-play threat of Wisconsin's offense, the veteran assistant coach has one position he knows he can turn to in order to keep the Badgers moving down the field: the tight ends.

"The group of them has a tremendous skill set," said Ludwig. "A couple of guys are really geared in toward the run game, a couple guys who are excellent pass receivers and a couple of them who are a great combination of both. We're trying to play to our strengths."

With questionable depth behind senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers have developed packages that exploit the talents of a group that could be the most experienced in the country.

Ludwig's system relies on multiple tight ends to be impact players on every play; a trait that's perfect with Wisconsin having three senior tight ends and a junior – Sam Arneson – who has played 25 career games.

"I think we have great chemistry all across the board," said senior Jacob Pedersen. "We've got a lot of players who can get open and catch the ball."

Through two games, Wisconsin's tight ends have been responsible for 23.5 percent of the catches (eight of 34) and 21.7 percent of the yards (92 of 424) generated through the passing game. Remove Abbrederis' 10 catches for 184 yards, those numbers jump to 33.3 percent and 38.3 percent, respectively.

It makes for an interesting matchup tonight when No.20 Wisconsin takes on Pac-12 foe Arizona State here at Sun Devils Stadium, especially since the Sun Devils have a pretty good tight end of their own in senior Chris Coyle.

Coyle finished third in the nation in tight end receptions per game with 4.38 a season ago, as his 57 receptions led the Sun Devils and were a new single-season best for ASU tight ends, as were his 696 receiving yards on the year.

Coyle finished with five touchdown catches on the year, one shy of the single-season tight end record set by Miller and Joe Petty. He picked up right where he left off in the season opener, catching two passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in the 55-0 drubbing of FCS foe Sacramento State on Sept.5.

On Wisconsin's side, the Badgers have Pedersen, the Big Ten's tight end of the year last year, who comes into the season healthy and fresh after a reduced workload in the fall.

Having so many guys and knowing Pedersen could run all three tight end position, tight end coach Jeff Genyk made Pedersen spend much of his watching the younger guys at his position go through drill-heavy practices.

It was a change, considering Pedersen used to take every rep in practice and admitted that he would sometimes go into games with tired legs, and has allowed him to take more mental reps to become a well-rounded tight end.

"I want to play every down for us and not have teams know when I am in that it's a run or when I got out it's going to be a pass play," said Pedersen, who has five catches for 69 yards (13.8 per catch) through two games. "I wanted to focus on being an every-down tight end and I think I can do that for us."

Pedersen burst on to the scene two seasons ago with 30 catches, 356 yards and eight touchdowns, benefiting from becoming one of Russell Wilson's favorite targets.

While his finished with 27 catches and 355 yards last year, Pedersen caught four less touchdowns as he, like many others, suffered with the struggles the offense had between the players and the offensive staff. When Ludwig came in and explained his system was based on elevating the passing game, the tight end group, especially Pedersen, let out a collective sigh of relief.

"I think I took the chances I had to make plays and did what I could. I think this year's going to be a lot different," Pedersen said. "Coach Ludwig has a great system, not just for myself, but for tight ends and the whole offense as a whole. We have more chances to make plays this year. I am really looking forward to it."

Whether it's a big play or a plodding drive, Wisconsin's tight end group has been involved. Pedersen and his cohorts leveled some of the key blocks that broke long runs in the running game in the season opener while three different tight ends have caught passes.

It could be foreshadowing of things to come in Wisconsin's new offense, and it's certainly being embraced.

"We've got guys in place who can make those plays and make the offense be successful," said Pedersen. "Hopefully we can get the job done."

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