MADISON – Rob Wheelwright isn’t one to shy away from a statement.
Entering fall camp, the senior receiver said it was on his shoulders to replace graduated receiver Alex Erickson and be the team’s number-one receiver. And while he leads the team in catches, much like his former teammate did at this point in the season, Wheelwright knows he’s still growing into the role.
“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement as I continue to develop,” Wheelwright said. “Do I feel I am the number one receiver? Of course. I go out there each and every week and do what I need to do. Whether that’s having two catches, three catches, maybe six catches, it doesn’t matter … I want to continue to be a leader, and that’s why I feel I am the number one because I’m the leader of the group.”
Entering Saturday’s game against No.2 Ohio State, Wheelwright hasn’t taken the big leap forward that many maybe expected. His numbers are decent (18 catches for 274 yards) but he has yet to score a touchdown. And if comparing to Erickson, the current Cincinnati Bengals rookie had 26 catches for 350 yards and a score through Wisconsin’s first five games last season.
Part of it is the Badgers don’t have a veteran quarterback. Joel Stave and Bart Houston (in mop-up time) completed 98 of 156 passes. With Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook this season, UW’s quarterbacks are 82 of 139, although Wheelwright and juniors George Rushing and Jazz Peavy have each dropped catchable passes.
“I need to be more consistent and try to make plays,” Wheelwright said. “It doesn’t matter about everyone else’s opportunity. When I get my opportunity, try to make the best out of it, gain as many yards and try to get in the end zone. That’s all I can do at this point.”
While the receiver depth hasn’t panned out to this point, both Peavy and Wheelwright have made tangible impacts.
Of Wisconsin’s 15 pass plays of at least 20 yards this season, Peavy is responsible for six of them (as well as one rush) and Wheelwright has five, including the only two against Michigan. Those represented only two of UW’s four third-down conversions on 15 tries.
“After a loss like that you want to go out there and practice harder, try to look at those mistakes and correct them in practice,” Wheelwright said. “When we played Michigan, we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities, our big shots. We didn’t capitalize as much as we wanted. We didn’t get many first down opportunities when it was third down. That’s something we’ve been working on, trying to fix and overcome those.”
For Wheelwright to improve, he said it’s all about winning his individual rep to give his quarterback an opportunity to make a play down field.
“If everybody does what they need to do, when they are supposed to do and with the right technique, it’s hard to stop an offense that’s doing that,” Wheelwright said. “I feel like with this prep and this practice, that’s all we’ve been working on.”
Tindal Pain Free
Heading into the Michigan State game, junior cornerback Derrick Tindal started to feel pain in his right wrist. Certainly not enough to sit him on the bench or affect his performance (he’s registered interceptions in each of the last two games), but Tindal knew something was amiss following Wisconsin’s 14-7 loss at No.4 Michigan.
“I was in a lot of pain, a lot,” Tindal said. “I just went in that Sunday and it hurt. I couldn’t bend it really. I went in, got x-rayed and the team doctor said I needed to get this surgery done.”
A minor procedure during the bye week has not yielded any side effects. Tindal went through post-practice interviews with a minor wrap on his hands and reported he’ll be “all right” for Saturday night.
That’s key for Wisconsin, as Tindal has thrived since moving into a starting role during spring practices. Seventh on the team with 15 tackles, Tindal’s three interceptions are best on the team and his five pass breakups are tied with senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton.
He’s been stellar in his assignment but is anxious to get back on the field after Michigan receiver Amara Darboh caught the game-winning 46-yard touchdown against him two weekends ago.
“It wasn’t that easy (to move on from it) because it was a big game and I feel like I gave up the biggest play of the game, which is was,” Tindal said. “That’s football, man. He’s a great receiver. I’m a great corner. He was better than me on that play.
“(Ohio State) is a high quality team. They are going to come in ready to fight because they know we’re going to come in ready to fight. It’s going to be good to play O-State right after Michigan.”
Needing three more touchdowns (rushing and/or passing) to break the school record of 88 touchdowns responsible for, junior quarterback J.T. Barrett brings a unique conundrum for defenders. Drop multiple defenders back to try and limit the pass, he beats teams with the zone-read option. Stack the box to prevent him from getting outside, Barrett can make plays over the top of the secondary.
“Both complement each other really well,” safety Leo Musso said. “Obviously he has a lot of playmakers on the outside to help him out in that regard when he needs to pass. When he runs he’s athletic enough to make the play. It’ll be a great challenge for us and we’ll look forward to facing it.”
After scoring at least 45 points in their first four games of the season, Ohio State managed only 38 points against Indiana Saturday and only 93 yards through the air. Shelton said Monday that the Badgers might learn something from watching the tape of Indiana’s secondary. If they did, Musso isn’t letting on to it.
“They beat Michigan State; they have a good ball club,” Musso said of Indiana. “There’s really nothing that you see specifically that you feel this is one thing. (Barrett) has a pretty nice resume in the pass that past couple years, and he’s proven himself time and time again. You don’t really look at one game and try to make a judgement off of that.”
Extra Points: Senior outside linebacker Vince Biegel remains in a walking boot after surgery on his right foot nearly two weeks ago but teammates said his rehab is ahead of schedule … Defensive assistant coaches were not made available to the media Wednesday for the first time this season … Wisconsin has won six consecutive games following a loss, dating back to 2014.