MADISON – Perhaps controversy can finally leave junior receiver Jazz Peavy.
One of the central players in Wisconsin’s 54-10 victory over Akron Saturday, Peavy delivered the best performance of his collegiate career in one half of football - recording career highs in catches (seven) and yards (100) while also scoring the first two touchdowns of his career.
He caught both touchdowns in the south end zone, the same end zone where his touchdown catch was overturned in the final seconds of a 13-7 loss to Northwestern last November.
“It came up quite a bit,” Peavy said of mentions of the “no” catch. “It’s one of those things. Now, no question, you can’t question those touchdowns.”
Peavy entered the season as Wisconsin’s No.2 receiving target, a lofty promotion for a player who had amassed just 20 catches for 268 yards in two years. But after being limited by hamstring and back problems early in his career, Peavy caught eight passes for 131 yards in a three-game stretch last season when then-junior Rob Wheelwright was out with a leg injury.
His best game was against the Wildcats, finishing with five catches for 88 yards, but people only remember his touchdown being reversed after he didn’t maintain complete possession of the catch after going to the ground.
Fair or foul, it was on-the-field experience that motivated him to become better at catching passes in traffic over the middle and consistently catching contested catches, among other things.
“Any reps you can get in a game situation is going to be big, but to go in and start starting at a position is even bigger,” Peavy said. “I got to dabble my feet in that a little bit and just helped me grow as a player.”
While not known for his speed, Peavy prides himself on running crisp routes and his run blocking. Against Akron Peavy created a wide-open lane for himself on his first touchdown catch and sprung Wheelwright for 47 yards on a screen pass because he sealed off the cornerback in front of the play.
“I knew (route running) was a strength of mine, so I tried to make that the biggest strength of mine,” Peavy said. “The things I do need to work on, I try to work on those to up my game.
“(Coach Gilmore) stresses (run blocking) all the time with all us,” he added. “Every practice, he’s always make sure we’re on our guy, making sure we’re finishing our blocks. Even if it’s a walkthrough practice, he makes sure we’re full speed getting to our guy and finishing.”
The coverage within Akron’s 4-3 scheme was primed for pass catching opportunities for Peavy and Wheelwright, especially with the Zips wanting to double Troy Fumagalli after the tight end caught seven passes for 100 yards in the opener. After seldom targeted against LSU (2 catches for 11 yards), Peavy found himself having a hand in every phase.
“I feel my confidence is way up right now,” said Peavy, who went for 23 yards on an end around on his first career carry. “It’s been growing every day. I’ve been working on it all the time with the coaches.”
Throw in Wheelwright’s four catches for a career-high 99 yards, Wisconsin is hopeful the group can develop a tandem that can give the Badgers their first pair of 900-yard receivers since Jared Abbrederis (933) and Nick Toon (926) in 2011. Since then, Wisconsin’s second-best wide receiver hasn’t come within 500 receiving yards of the team’s No. 1 pass-catcher.
“We had the weapons last year, and we’ve got the weapons this year,” quarterback Bart Houston said. “It’s mainly the same group of guys, and everybody will have their turn … Jazz had his big day, Troy had his big day a week ago. Whoever is open is going to get the ball.”
Line Not Missing A Beat
With Wisconsin redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen missing practice Tuesday with a left leg injury, the offensive line continues a musical chairs dance between Dietzen and redshirt sophomore Micah Kapoi, who started the season opener but missed the last game with an injury to his left leg.
The injury bug on the line has an eerie similar feel to it, considering injuries ravaged the group last year and were a main reason why the program utilized seven different offensive line combinations in 13 games. This year, with three players having played last season and a transfer having previous college experience, the rotating door on the line hasn’t been close to the stumbling block it was a year ago.
“Chemistry is there, trust is there with Jon or Micah, so really these is no different with Micah or Jon in there,” center Michael Deiter said. “I thought this week went well.”
While offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph said there are plenty of things to clean up before hosting Georgia State (0-2) in the nonconference finale, he believes the team’s ability to adjust as the game went on has become a strength.
“That’s probably the thing I’m the most excited about,” he said. “We got a lot thrown at us.”
Dietzen’s status is unknown for Saturday.
Shaw Scratching the Surface
Watching the second half unfold Saturday from the sidelines, senior tailback Corey Clement thought about two things: 1) this offense can do a lot more with him healthy and classmate Dare Ogunbowale getting touches 2) the UW tailback room is in good hands with Bradrick Shaw.
With Clement and Ogunbowale graduating after this season, Wisconsin’s running back rotation will be a three-man competition between sophomore Taiwan Deal, junior Chris James and Shaw, who got his feet wet in a big way Saturday with over 70 rushing yards on nine carries.
Deal and Shaw are both listed at 6-1, although Deal is listed at 224 pounds to Shaw’s 211. Shaw tends to run with his pads a little higher than normal but makes up for it with his speed. His lightning-fast 35-yard touchdown run made up for a missed block on the edge and helped him compensate for a shove inside the five-yard line.
Shaw is reserved when he speaks now, but Clement sees the redshirt freshman having a big role in 2017.
“He really doesn’t open up to anybody much but when he plays, he plays,” Clement said. “I just tell him to hit it. I told him he was going to score (Saturday) and he flipped into the end zone.”