Who would have thought when he went down early in the second quarter with a head injury the offense would somehow get better? Wisconsin didn't skip a beat with its biggest weapon on the bench as the Badgers cruised past the Wildcats, 35-6, without the senior receiver for the final three quarters.
Per usual, Abbrederis was in Stave's sights early and often. Of Stave's eight first-quarter attempts, six were thrown in the direction of Abbrederis with the other two intended for senior tight end Jacob Pedersen.
After gaining just 10 yards on its first three drives, one of which ended with an Abbrederis fumble, Wisconsin's offense finally opened up with Abbrederis hauling in a 63-yard touchdown off a well executed play-action fake.
"I think that helped," center Dallas Lewallen said. "We were kind of stalling there the first couple drives. Jared catching that long pass kind of opened it up."
The field didn't completely open up after that play. Stave missed two big opportunities in the first quarter to Derek Watt in the flat that could have gone for 20 yards, instead opting to throw to a well-covered Abbrederis, and a back-shoulder throw to Abbrederis that was bobbled by the senior which resulted in Stave's fifth interception in six games.
"We've got to do a better job protecting the ball as an offense," Stave said.
Strangely enough, Wisconsin's offense started rolling after Abbrederis was ruled out with a concussion. Watching with his helmet off from the sidelines, Stave went 5-for-5 with completions to four different receivers, leading Wisconsin on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up 5 minutes, 43 seconds.
"The whole offense did a great job of not getting down on one negative play," Stave said. "They're good players, too. The defense is going to make good plays also so we've just got to make sure we're not getting down on it."
Wisconsin became balanced from then on. Stave completed 17 passes to nine different receivers and threw touchdown passes to three different targets. After two turnovers and one touchdown with Abbrederis in the lineup, Stave threw for two touchdowns, was picked off once and got the running game churning out positive yards.
"I thought that was huge for everyone," Stave said about the receiving corps production without Abbrederis. "You know everyone knows what Jared can do … so I think the other guys being able to step up and make plays in his spot was big for us."
Stave found open receivers all over the field in the second half. When he didn't, he checked down to a tailback in the flats, who combined for six receptions, 46 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers also continued to pound the running game with jet-sweeps and formations that kept the Wildcats' defense guessing.
Near the end of the first half, Melvin Gordon broke the game open when he took a jet sweep – the same look UW faked on the play-action touchdown to Abbrederis - up the Northwestern sideline for a 71-yard touchdown to make the score 21-3.
Gordon's run was Wisconsin's 10th play of 50 or more yards this season, and momentum shifted permanently to Wisconsin from there.
"When we can give the defense looks like that and run more than one play out of a formation," said Stave, "it's going to keep them on their toes."
Having an expanded role because of Abbrederis' absence, Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson and Jeff Duckworth were all able to stretch the field. In the third quarter, Erickson made a sliding 35-yard catch to set up a Pedersen two-yard touchdown catch.
"The throw game, I believe it's improving," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. "We're catching the ball better. Joel, you always have a few throws you'd like to take back. We're going to keep working on it. It's important to him. It's important to Coach Lud(wig) and the offense."
The offensive line for the Badgers kept Stave upright for the most part, only allowing three sacks, and wore down the Northwestern defensive line. Not only did Gordon (172) and White (101) break 100 yards, the badgers finished with 527 yards of total offense: 454 of which came with Abbrederis on the sidelines.
"Those guys played great up front," Gordon said about the offensive line. "They got really great push, they gave us some holes and it was pretty much just us and the safeties."
Anderson expects Abbrederis back next week against Illinois.