MADISON - He had only one catch a season ago, a 19-yard touchdown against Minnesota, but it was a brief moment that gave Rob Wheelwright the confidence and motivation that he could be an impact receiver for the University of Wisconsin.
Waiting a long time to prove his worth, Wheelwright is taking advantage of the opportunity. In the Badgers’ 58-0 blanking of Miami (OH), the junior led all receivers and set career highs in catches (six), yards (79) and touchdowns (two). In a word, it was gratifying.
“It’s great,” said Wheelwright. “It’s motivation to keep going, keep working, stay healthy, stay in the playbook and continue to do it each and every week.”
Wheelwright’s two scores came at the end of first and second quarter off similar red-zone routes. The key, he said, has been patience, whether it’s running his routes or biding his time after being buried on the depth chart.
“I had to key into all the coach’s concepts and eventually it would happen,” said Wheelwright.
He also made some a pair of timely catches along the sideline when the Badgers went in the two-minute drill. With 21 seconds and the ball on UW’s 49, Wheelwright caught a 16-yard and 15-yard pass, got out of bounds quickly and set up Rafael Gaglianone for a 38-yard field goal to end the half.
“Even though we didn’t score (a touchdown), we showed that we can move the ball as fast as possible to get points,” said Wheelwright.
The biggest thing that has held Wheelwright back is his body, continuously breaking down and stunting his development. Now with a fresh start under Paul Chryst and receivers coach Ted Gilmore, Wheelwright has still missed practice time with various aliments (hamstring in the spring, knee in the fall) but hasn’t let it effected his performance upon his return.
“We can be the best in the Big Ten,” said Wheelwright. “If we continue to work, continue to get down everything that we need to do, Coach Chryst believes in us as playmakers. Giving us the opportunity to catch the ball, I feel we can be great.”
DOUBLE DUTY FOR MCEVOY
After being seldom used on offense and not at all on defense in the season-opening loss to No.3 Alabama, McEvoy was given a workout against Miami University.
McEvoy was a big target in the passing game by senior quarterback Joel Stave and became an impact player at safety, finishing with three catches for 29 yards, one tackle and an interception that he returned 41 yards down to the Redhawks 4. The pick set up one of UW’s seven touchdowns.
“It’s definitely unique,” said McEvoy about playing both ways. “You don’t see it every day, but I see it as an opportunity. I got to make the most of this opportunity that I’m getting. Coach believes that I can go both ways, and physically I felt good, which was nice. It was a good opportunity. It was fun to do.”
Playing a little more than 70 snaps, unofficially, Chryst said the coaching staff is still figuring out what kind of workload the senior can handle. One thing is certain in his mind, however, the Badgers need McEvoy on the field.
“He's a guy that can help make us different offensively and defensively,” Chryst said. “We were able to do some different things in the back end defensively … He's just a headsy player, and I think he can still give us some things offensively that we can continue to build on and grow from.”
McEvoy became the fourth known player in the last 12 years to play on both sides of the football in the same game. Brandon Williams did it for the last five games of 2003, Manasseh Garner did it sparingly against Austin Peay in 2010 and Jared Abbrederis played defense for one play against Michigan State in 2011.
GAGLIANONE BACK IN RHYTHM
After how hard he and his unit worked in the offseason, Gaglianone couldn’t hide his frustration for missing his first attempt of the season right before halftime last week. Having a chance to cut the Alabama lead to 14-10, with his offense getting the ball back to start the second half, Gaglianone’s 34-yard kick bounced square off the right upright, ending his streak of 14 straight makes and missing a golden chance at momentum.
“As a kicker you are a perfectionist and you want to make every kick you take,” said Gaglianone. “It’s just hard. I know they are going to need me at the end of the game, or something like that, so I tried to refocus on the next one and that’s what I did coming into this week.”
The effort shows. Gaglianone was a perfect 3-for-3 on his kicks Saturday, tying a career high, hitting from 29, 25 and 38 in the first half.
“I feel like everything is back in a groove now,” said Gaglianone. “Just having a good snapper and a good holder makes my job easy for me.”
EXTRA POINTS: Junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton was taken to the locker room to be examined for a head injury but returned to the field shortly after … Senior tight end Austin Traylor caught a 20-yard touchdown pass — the first of his career … Stave won his 22nd game as a starter, passing Scott Tolzien (2009-10) for the fourth-most in school history … Wisconsin gathered three interceptions, which was the first time the Badgers had a trio of picks in a game since grabbing three at Illinois on Nov. 19, 2011.