UW needs another contributor
Sophomore Jared Abbrederis leads Wisconsin in receptions (30) and is second in receiving yards (482, 68.9 per game).
Nick Toon, who has missed one game because of injury, is second in receptions (27) and first in receiving yards (505, 84.2) and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (six).
With five regular-season games remaining, Abbrederis already has surpassed his totals for receptions and yards from last season (20-289). Toon has surpassed his totals for yards and touchdown receptions (459-3).
Together, they have 57 of the 65 receptions (88 percent) by UW’s wide receivers.
The drop-off from there is precipitous. Next on the list is redshirt sophomore Jeff Duckworth, with five receptions for 48 yards in six games.
Freshman Kenzel Doe has two receptions for 4 yards in six games. Sophomore Manasseh Garner—who played wide receiver and defensive end as a freshman, moved to H-back in the spring and was switched to wide receiver before camp—has one reception for 27 yards.
Throughout camp, the UW staff talked about the need for a third wide receiver to emerge.
That wait continues as UW (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) prepares to face Ohio State (4-3, 1-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Columbus.
“I think through the course of the year we’re going to need it,” offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. “But the reason I hesitate is that no one is failing us in the sense that we’re asking them to do more and they’re not giving it to us.
“I don’t want to be throwing a guy under the bus who isn’t getting a lot of opportunities.”
Chryst conceded that reserves have the opportunity during practice to show they deserve more chances during games.
“Guys have had moments,” Chryst said.
Freshman Fred Willis made gains in practice recently and the staff hoped to use him against Indiana, the game in which Toon was held out because of problems with his left foot.
That plan was scrapped when Willis suffered a sprained left ankle on kickoff coverage. He was not available at Michigan State but is expected to return to practice this week.
Garner has not been consistent enough in practice.
“Manasseh is a young guy that’s coming,” Chryst said. “But he is young and that’s not his fault.”
Duckworth, who missed one game because of a concussion, has been the most consistent of the reserves. He doesn’t appear to possess big-play capability but has dependable hands and could offer a complementary weapon to Toon and Abbrederis down the stretch.
“I thought Duck was going good and then the concussion kind of slowed him,” Chryst said. “But I trust him in there. Going forward he will have opportunities.”
Considering UW is averaging 47.4 points per game, 11.1 more than at this point last season, the lack of a consistent third wide receiver isn’t setting off alarm bells in the coaches’ offices.
However, a third threat could make life easier for quarterback Russell Wilson, particularly if teams scheme to take away Toon or Abbrederis.
In the loss to Michigan State, Abbrederis had six receptions for 91 yards. Toon, who appeared at times to be favoring his left foot, had two for 58. No other wide receiver had a reception.
UW coach Bret Bielema noted Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference the staff determined the best personnel groupings to use against Michigan State featured either two wide receivers, two tight ends and a back; or two wide receivers, one tight end and two backs.
“Nick and Abby are very good,” he said. “It is hard to take them off the field or justify that.”
Ohio State, coming off a bye week, enters the game No. 5 in the Big Ten in pass defense (188.3 yards per game). The Buckeyes have surrendered 10 touchdown passes, tied for sixth most in the league.
However, they have nine interceptions. That is the No. 3 mark in the league, behind Penn State (12) and Michigan State (10).
“A lot of similarities between Michigan State and Ohio State,” Wilson said when asked to compare the defenses. “They’ve got a lot of athletic ability obviously, starting up front all the way to the back end of the defense.”