Through spring practice and fall camp, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni consistently acknowledged he had a group that lacked experience beyond redshirt junior Jared Abbrederis.
Players like redshirt junior Jeff Duckworth and redshirt sophomore Chase Hammond have been in the program for multiple years, but Hammond does not have a career reception.
Duckworth caught 15 passes for 230 yards and a score in 2011, highlighted by a 36-yard reception on fourth down against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
Saturday, Azzanni went young around Abbrederis, and the results were positive. As a unit, wide receivers caught 11 passes from junior quarterback Danny O’Brien for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Abbrederis registered both scores, one on a corner route in the red zone and the other after he got deep behind the secondary on a post pattern for a 53-yard touchdown.
The two scores give the former walk-on—he was awarded a scholarship prior to this season—13 for his career, good for No. 10 all time at Wisconsin.
“He’s a short kid from Wisconsin that wasn’t recruited,” Azzanni said of Abbrederis when asked how the Wautoma, Wis. native continues to fly somewhat under the radar.
“He’s not your prototypical 6’4, 210 lb. guy that was recruited by everybody in the country and people just don’t want to accept that he’s a really good player.”
“He’s one of the best in the country,” Azzanni said. “He’s one of the best in the conference and in the country.”
Redshirt freshman Jordan Fredrick recorded his first two career receptions for 31 yards. Sophomore Kenzel Doe caught three passes for 21 yards, including two third-down catches on underneath routes that moved the chains.
Doe, listed generously at 5’8 and 170 lbs., showed a willingness to go over the middle, where linebackers live and where some receivers get gun-shy about catching the ball.
“If they want me to go over the middle I’m going to have to do it to be successful,” Doe said Tuesday. “I can’t just shy away from it or be scared.”
With three catches, Doe surpassed his production from 2011 (two catches for four yards) despite playing just nine snaps Saturday.
“He knows that’s his deal, that he can maneuver his way thorugh there,” said Azzanni, who was the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky in 2011 and coached for Urban Meyer at Florida before that. “I was proud of him to come out and have a really good game. He deserves it.”
Abbrederis is the top returning receiver in the conference and is a consistent threat. With a loaded backfield that will get plenty of work (47 carries Saturday) and talented group of tight ends, UW should have more big play ability than it showed Saturday.
How much the wide receivers past Abbrederis are a part of that is yet to be determined, but the young group showed promise against Northern Iowa—though the Panthers often played one deep safety to help stop the Badgers’ ground game.
For Azzanni, building trust between O’Brien and his group is the key.
“I don’t care if it’s four catches if we get four thrown to us,” he said. “Whatever’s thrown to us, we have to make. We did that Saturday, so I was pleased with that.”