Wisconsin's Short Passes Catching On

Wisconsin's passing game is still in work in progress but certainly caught flight in week one by targeting the running backs.

MADISON - There’s little debate that senior Alex Erickson is the primary focus of quarterback Joel Stave and Wisconsin’s passing attack. After week one, it appears the Badgers’ secondary option is a position instead of a player.

Looking to get the ball into the flat and take advantage of favorable matchups, Wisconsin targeted a quartet of running backs who showed they have more skills than just running and blocking.

Of Wisconsin’s 26 completed passes against Alabama, tailbacks Corey Clement, Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale and fullback Derek Watt combined for 14 catches for 84 yards to help UW move the chains against the Crimson Tide’s stingy front.

“All around as an offense we were able to mix it up with who we were targeting and who Joel was throwing it to,” said Watt, who finished with five catches for 22 yards. “It was good to see everybody get incorporated. We weren’t necessary just throwing it to one guy. Everyone got involved and that helped tremendously in the passing game being able to spread it out and hit multiple people.”

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst is tasked with energized a passing attack that was among the worst in the country last season, finishing 118th out of 128 FBS teams with 148.7 yards per game.

Part of the problem for the Badgers was the lack of quality wide receivers being recruited and developed, as Wisconsin hasn’t had a scholarship receiver thrive in the program since Nick Toon left in 2011 (Jared Abbrederis and Erickson were both walk-on quarterbacks at the start of their career).

So while the Badgers develop some young talent at the position, and try to get their offensive line in working order, Wisconsin relied on short passes to its backs to get the ball into the flat and its runners into space.

Ogunbowale’s six catches for 39 yards were the first of his career, Watt’s production was a career high and the most he’s had in the last two previous years combined and Deal was making his collegiate debut.

“It felt good to have the coaches trust me to call those plays and have Joel give me the opportunity to get the ball in my hands,” said Watt.

With Clement’s status questionable for Saturday in the home opener against Miami (OH), Wisconsin’s other backs should expect a heavy workload, both on the ground and through the air.

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