Grimyser: Speed Kills, So does Production

True freshman wide receiver Kyle Jefferson, filling in for injured Paul Hubbard, sparked the offense in more ways than his numbers suggest.

MADISON - After Saturday's game between the Wisconsin Badgers and The Citadel Bulldogs, I realized there was an important question that came from the 45-31 win for the Badgers.

Do the seventh-ranked Badgers have a feared deep threat?

My answer came in the form of wide receiver Kyle Jefferson, who is being depended upon to fill in for injured starter Paul Hubbard.

With the Badgers lacking a true deep threat besides Jefferson, he could become essential to the team's chances when safeties load the box. If quarterback Tyler Donovan doesn't have anyone to throw to over the top of the secondary, the team's offense becomes severely limited.

"[Jefferson] played a great game today," Donovan said. "There were even a few times where he went up to me and said ‘Gimme the ball.' As a quarterback, you love to have a guy that wants the ball, especially as a freshman. He didn't act like a freshman today."

Coming into today's game, Hubbard's knee injury was the most pressing concern because of his experience and abilities. As last year's second leading receiver and a tall presence at 6-foot-4, Hubbard leaves a big hole to fill during his six-to-eight week absence.

Luckily, Jefferson has the physical tools to work with, as well. He used his 6-foot-5 frame, 4.4 speed and hard work during previous weeks to earn the right to become a starter.

"I didn't let it bother me [that I was starting]," Jefferson said. "My expectations were the same, take one practice at a time, one day at a time and prepare."

As a true freshman, Jefferson got thrown into the fire without even a catch in his career. He joined a team full of veteran receivers and won't be allowed time to find his comfort zone within the offense.

Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst began the game with a plan to get Jefferson involved early in the offense. The Badger's first two offensive plays of the game were passes to Jefferson, on opposite sides of the field, for a combined 20 yards, which resulted in a first down.

"I didn't find out [about the first two plays] until today," Jefferson said. "Maybe five minutes before the game."

The two passes may have jump started Jefferson's day, but he is used to making quick adjustments. When he started practice at Wisconsin this fall, he began near the bottom of the depth chart. During camp, he played well enough to jump up to the fourth spot. After Hubbard's injury, he played almost the entire second half against UNLV. Now, as a starter, Jefferson needs to fill in as a starter for a fifth-year senior as a true freshman.

"I didn't have any doubts [about myself]," Jefferson said. "I went out there and blocked, ran my rotes and did everything that I need to do to help my team."

Jefferson came into the game not lacking any confidence, only experience. In his first two games, he neither caught a ball nor made a large impact. He did get on the field, which is more playing time than most freshmen receive, but he never got a pass thrown his way. Head coach Bret Bielema's faith in Jefferson only built confidence in the wide receiver.

"We challenge him to be a playmaker," Bielema said. "He's got great hands [and] he's a competitor. He's used to being in that type of environment and the challenge will be great for him."

This game could serve as a springboard for the 19-year-old, a game that he looks back at for years to come as a positive start to his career as a productive receiver. He will have four years to develop his abilities, body and skills.

"I'm so young I have a lot of learning to do," Jefferson said. "I'm just gonna take it one step at a time and if they throw it deep, it's my job to catch the ball."

Unfortunately, today Jefferson saw limited action against The Citadel, as his first two catches were his only catches of the afternoon. During many series, Marcus Randle El got the call to go in instead of the true-freshman. Yet, Jefferson is capable of producing much more than Randle El does because Jefferson's blazing speed and incredible agility makes him a natural playmaker.

"He came out big for us," Donovan said. "We wanted to open early and get the ball to him, to just kinda get him in the flow of the game and get his butterflies out."

With a rail thin body - around 195 pounds - Jefferson won't be expected to go across the middle as much as Hubbard did. Just for preventing injury, Jefferson needs to be on the sidelines outrunning smaller cornerbacks. If he can't do that, his chances for contributing to the team aren't likely. This is one of many things he will work on, but his strength is most certainly his long ball abilities.

"I feel honored to be even considered to be a deep threat," Jefferson said. "I heard one of my coaches say that speed kills."

Before his injury, Hubbard did not amass his usual statistics, but his abilities have been proven in the past. He is able to go over the middle, down the field and block for the running game. Hopefully, Jefferson can fill in on one Hubbard's responsibilities.

Wisconsin has many players capable of catching the short-to-intermediate pass. Tight end Travis Beckum will catch passes down the middle of the field. Wide receiver Luke Swan will grab passes on the outside. That leaves only Jefferson to go get the long ball.

In the worst possible scenario, Jefferson at least scares opponents into thinking Wisconsin has another player capable of big plays. In the best possible case, my question going into Saturday was answered.

"I built a little bit more confidence in myself with the two passes, but also I got calmer as the game went on," Jefferson said. "Now that I've played a full game in college, I really feel I can just help my team in more ways. I believe I can be a deep threat."


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