Erickson Emerging as Top Target

After No.18 Wisconsin's first two games of the season, redshirt sophomore Alex Erickson is starting to separate himself as the Badgers' top passing target, doing so in a way that draws comparison to former walk-on Jared Abbrederis.

MADISON - Alex Erickson has had the question asked of him a lot over the last few months: “Are you the next Jared Abbrederis?”

“I don’t know if I am,” said Erickson. “We’ve all got our own story.”

The redshirt sophomore from Darlington, Wis., does have a different story than the Green Bay Packers’ fifth-round draft pick this past spring, but the plot lines from their stories could be considered copyright infringement.

Both were standout athletes coming to Wisconsin as walk-ons from small in-state high schools who had to transition to wide receiver from the quarterback position.

Abbrederis’ story of how it turned out is already written. He caught 202 career passes for 3,140 yards and 23 touchdowns, not to mention contributing to Wisconsin’s running game and special teams.

Erickson’s story is just beginning, but it’s off to a great start. In each of Wisconsin’s first two games of the season, Erickson has led the team in catches and yards, the standout performance being Saturday when he caught 10 passes for 122 yards – both personal bests – and his first collegiate touchdown with his mom, dad and grandma among a large contingent in the stands.

“I’m basically a hometown guy, so it’s great,” said Erickson. “A lot of support.”

Wisconsin entered the season in desperate search for a No.1 wide receiver to replace Abbrederis’ production. Last season, Abbrederis accounted for 78 of the receptions (66.1 percent), 1,081 of the yards (69.5 percent) and all seven of the group’s touchdowns, not to mention 15 of UW’s 17 pass completions over 20 yards.

It’s part of the reason why Wisconsin signed five wide receivers in the 2014 recruiting class and put a lot of pressure on Rob Wheelwright and Reggie Love to contribute this fall.

So it’s got to feel good to Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen that, despite Wheelwright continuing to be plagued by nagging injuries, Love underperforming and two of UW’s incoming freshmen receivers not making it to fall campus, the Badgers have seen somebody step up to the plate as a legitimate receiving threat.

“Alex made a lot of football plays,” Andersen said Saturday. “He caught it over the middle very, very well. He’s fearless. He’s a competitor. He’s fast. I think Tanner (McEvoy) feels very comfortable, as all our quarterbacks do, throwing the ball to Alex. It was just great to see him because he's worked so hard since the bowl game to get this moment.”

Erickson was one of the receivers earmarked to make big gains during the spring after catching nine passes for 127 yards in part-time duty last season, but the plan went awry when Erickson tore his meniscus in the bowl game.

He sat out all spring, but participated throughout summer workouts to get his legs back.

“I just have to keep getting better every week and be ready to do,” said Erickson.

Erickson, the other wide receivers and McEvoy were heavily criticized in the season opener against LSU after the passing attack failed to take flight. Struggling to gain separation from the Tigers’ talented secondary, Wisconsin threw for only 50 yards and poor communications led to overthrows and interceptions.

A week later against a FCS opponent, the group heard the boo birds after failing to move the ball on Wisconsin’s first three drives, which included 1-for-3 passing for eight yards and one interception.

With Western Illinois bottling up Wisconsin’s running game, Erickson said the receivers had no alternative but to trust that things were going to turn around.

By game’s end, Wisconsin had thrown for 289 yards and three touchdowns, as Erickson and others showed they indeed can give the offense the boost.

“We stuck to it,” Erickson said. “It wasn’t going in the first half, but we believed in ourselves and kept going that whole second half … When it gets going it gets going. It’s a combination in confidence in the receivers, confidence in the quarterback, confidence in the play calling. All those things stuck together.”

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