Passing Game Finally Takes Flight

Wisconsin's running game was expected to carry the load against No.4 Ohio State's defense, but it was the Badgers' passing attack - grounded for much of the season - that kept Wisconsin in the game before ultimately falling at Ohio Stadium.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - If someone said before No.23 Wisconsin took on No.4 Ohio State's experienced secondary and young front seven that one offensive attack would have 295 yards and the other would have 104, how many would honestly label the latter the rushing category?

Anybody? Thought so.

Wisconsin came in boasting the nation's number three rushing attack (349.8 yards per game), the nation's active career leader in rushing yards (James White – 3,013) and the nation's season leader in yards (Melvin Gordon – 624), but it was the Badgers' passing game that did most of the damage against Ohio State's vaunted secondary.

Yes, that passing game that came into the game ranked 90th in the country in passing yards and had failed to eclipse 220 yards through the air in any of UW's first four games of the season.

"I thought we did a good job throwing the ball, driving the ball down the field and protecting to give me a chance to throw it and the receivers a chance to get open," said quarterback Joel Stave, who did all he could to try to save No.23 Wisconsin before the Badgers fell 31-24 Saturday night.

"The passing game is very heavy on the quarterback, obviously, but everybody else is so instrumental in protecting, picking up blitzes, running and catching and getting open. I think we made some strides there."

Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) was already dealing without Jacob Pedersen (knee) and Kenzel Doe (hamstring), the team's third and sixth leading pass catchers this season, respectively, and the situation worsened when Jordan Frederick – the team's number four pass catcher - went down with a head injury.

Still the Badgers managed to complete 20 passes to five different receivers, 10 of which landed in the arms of senior Jared Abbrederis for a career-high 207 yards. Most of the yards came against junior cornerback Brandon Roby - a projected high draft pick in 2014 - that included a 36-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.

"I was excited all week," said Abbrederis of matching up with Roby. "I was hoping they would do one-on-one, just to have the opportunity to play somebody as Roby's level. I was excited for that and was happy I got the opportunity all game."

It was the first 200-yard receiving performance by a Wisconsin player since Lee Evans had a school-record 258 yards against Michigan State in Nov. 2003.

"Jared is an unbelievable competitor," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. "He's tough to cover in man coverage. He's tough to deal with in zone coverage. I don't know if it goes unnoticed but it doesn't to my eyes; his intent to block on every run play is incredible. He got dinged up pretty good at the end and there was no taking that young man out of the game."

Stave also found junior tight end Sam Arneson four times for 39 yards. Coming into the game Arneson longest reception was only nine yards, but caught passes of 20 and 11 in place of Pedersen. Wisconsin's offensive line protected well, giving up only two sacks and three quarterback hurries.

One of those hurries led to Stave's only miscue of the night, an interception made by Roby that resulted in an Ohio State touchdown and a 31-14 lead.

"I thought he got rid of the ball well, made good decisions for the most part," said Andersen. "I can't really speak for the one pick … but Joel is improving."

Had Wisconsin's running game not been stymied from the start, the outcome may have been different. Gordon, averaging 156 yards per game and 11.8 yards per carry, was held to 74 yards and 4.9 yards per carry. Gordon had his knee landed on in the third quarter and needed to be helped off the field. He didn't return, but Andersen said his star tailback will be ‘OK' going forward.

White managed to get Wisconsin on the board with a 17-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, but managed only 14 yards on his seven other carries. As a team, Wisconsin managed just 3.9 yards per carry, a far cry from the 206 yards UW ran for last year against the Buckeyes.

"That's a talented front," said Stave of Ohio State. "They did a good job stopping the run. They have good linebackers filling the gaps. It's disappointing that we couldn't get the entire offense rolling like we usually do."

Good or bad, Wisconsin will have two weeks to iron out the details before another stiff test against No.17 Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium.

"We're a competitive group of guys," said Stave. "We're not going to give up. Even when things look back, down 10 points in the fourth quarter, the defense did a great job getting the ball back. We don't want to get down on ourselves. We just have to keep making sure we're competing until the end and give ourselves a chance to win at the end."

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