Fill the box, watch them pass

UW showed Saturday it can pass when coerced, but defenses will continue challenging the Badgers to take to the air

Wisconsin dusted off its receivers last Saturday against the Indiana University football team, and the results were encouraging.

The Hoosiers had a very clear goal in mind when they walked into Camp Randall Stadium: do not let Brian Calhoun beat us. So they loaded up the box with eight or nine players, blitzed often and dared UW to take advantage of one-on-one coverage in the secondary.

The tactic kept Calhoun from completely dominating the game, though he did top the 100-yard plateau for the fourth time in UW's 5-0 start.

That scheme, though, also opened a sky-high window of opportunity for the Badgers' passing game.

Receivers Jonathan Orr and Brandon Williams and quarterback John Stocco busted right through it. Orr caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Williams had four receptions for 113 yards and two scores — all in the first half. Stocco completed 13 of 24 passes for 274 yards and the three touchdowns.

Henry Mason, the Badgers' receivers coach, was astounded to learn that was the first time in 12 years that UW had delivered two 100-yard receiving performances in the same game.

"I would have never thought that," Mason said. "You'd think of when Chambers and Evans were here somewhere along the line both those guys had games where both of them had 100, but I guess not."

Prior to Saturday, Lee Evans was the last Badger to have 100 receiving yards in a game, when he had 258 versus Michigan State two years ago. Evans topped 100 yards 10 times in his UW career, but never saw another 100-yard receiving day correspond with his own — not even during the two years he played opposite Chris Chambers.

"It was that kind of day," Mason said, referring to Saturday's game. "It was the kind of day where knew we were going to get some big plays. And we knew to win we were going to get some big plays. And that's what happened."

UW's passing game rarely even attempted to stretch the field in its first four contests. Against Indiana, however, Orr caught two 47-yard passes and Williams chipped in a 29-yard catch.

"I think it helped, yeah, especially because you want to make teams pay if they are going to load the box to stop the run," Stocco said. "So I think it was good for our offense as well to be able to have the ability to do that."

UW's passing game has been effective when called upon for most of this season, but just not nearly as potent as it was Saturday. Regardless of that success, the Badgers' seven remaining opponents will almost certainly continue to focus on Calhoun, and for good reason. The junior tailback leads the nation in touchdowns (10), is third in rushing (145.4 yards per game) and fifth in all-purpose yards (178.8 per game).

"For one game, yeah that was really good," Mason said, referring to his 100-yard receiving duo. "That was real good. But, you know… Somewhere along the line people have to be believers and start backing up. (They) are back there, putting nine or 10 guys in the box. If you start seeing that (teams backing off) then you know you've made an impact.

"But I've got a life-size picture of Northwestern loading up the same way Indiana did. So we're going to have to do it more than once for people to really believe that that's what we can do consistently."

Of course, just because teams are filling up the box with opposing defenders does not mean the Badgers are going to shy away from running the ball. They are controlling the ball for 34:17 per game, the second-best mark in the Big Ten, and this week the Badgers square off with a Northwestern team featuring a top-notch offense.

"I think it will be similar with Bowling Green," Stocco said. "Northwestern has a powerful offense and so we're going to want to keep them off the field as much as we can.

"But at the same time we got to do whatever we have to do. If they are going to load up to stop the run we've got to take it to the air… Our ultimate goal is to put points on the board. And so however we got to do that we're going to do."

Super seniors?

Prior to this season, UW head coach Barry Alvarez said he hoped to see Williams and Orr enjoy big senior seasons, harkening back to the 2002 campaign, when they combined for more than 1,500 yards.

So far, Williams and Orr have each played well, but Mason cautioned that it is too early to feel that they are in the midst of breakout senior seasons.

"I think you can answer that question over the course of time," Mason said. "You see how it goes."

Prior to Saturday, Orr had just eight catches for 83 yards and one touchdown in four games. Williams had been the team's most productive receiving option, but was not quite lighting the world on fire with 13 catches, 165 yards and no touchdowns.

"I'm just happy for those two kids, get a chance to catch some balls," Mason said.

"We felt like we would have some opportunities in the last game and Indiana didn't disappoint us," Mason said. "They had a good game plan… They were going to stop [Brian Calhoun] and make John and the receivers win the game. Fortunately we were able to do that."

For the record: Before Saturday, the last time the Badgers had two 100-yard receivers was Oct. 23, 1993, when receivers Lee DeRamus (156 yards) and J.C. Dawkins (131) achieved the feat.

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