It is hard to underestimate how much redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis means to the Badgers’ offense this year.
Not only is the former walk-on the unquestioned go-to target for redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave—and junior Danny O’Brien before him—but he also serves as the lynchpin in a talented, but vastly under-experienced group of receivers.
It is easy to get caught up talking about intangibles when it comes to Abbrederis. His coaches and teammates rave about them because his approach diametrically opposed to the prima donna nature of many top receivers.
“He’s just a great role model for all of us,” redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Fredrick said. “He’s made it, but he works hard like he hasn’t. He makes it look like he’s still a freshman working hard and trying to earn a spot. It’s pretty crazy to see that from a guy who’s done so much and still has that humbleness to work every single play.”
Abbrederis enters Saturday’s Leaders Division contest against Purdue leading the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (103.7, No. 15 nationally), second in yards (516) and yards per catch (19.1) and tied for second in touchdown catches (five).
Even those numbers do not tell the whole story. Abbrederis missed the entire second half of UW’s 10-7 loss against Oregon State and all of a 16-14 win against Utah State the following week after suffering a concussion against the Beavers.
Saturday, he became the first Wisconsin receiver to record three consecutive games with over 100 receiving since Lee Evans did it in 2001. In the four games he has been available from start to finish, the Wautoma native is averaging 6.5 receptions and 122.5 yards. Each of the last two weeks, he has matched his career-high with seven catches.
In 2011, Abbrederis amassed 55 catches in 14 games (3.9 per game) but he has blossomed into a more complete threat this year. Part of that is the departure of Nick Toon (64 rec., 926 yards in 2011). Part of it is a young quarterback’s comfort level with the veteran—Abbrederis’ 516 yards account for 44 percent of Wisconsin’s passing yards this year.
Part of it is likely the new offensive scheme under first-year coordinator Matt Canada, who has used Abbrederis in a wider variety of ways. Not to be discounted, though, is the tutelage of first-year wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
“He has a lot of knowledge,” Abbrederis said. “He’s able to explain it to us well, what we need to work on. It has to be believable in order for you to really want to go out there and do it, so when you see yourself have success with the techniques he’s taught you, it makes you want to keep working on it and get better at it.”
Azzanni is more intense than former wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander (now at Arizona State) and is a technician when it comes to footwork, hand and pad placement and just about every detail a wide receiver could employ.
“‘Coach Z has brought some technique to Jared’s game and Jared has incorporated it pretty well,” Fredrick said. “He’s pretty unstoppable right now. You can’t just have one guy over the top to cover him.”
If he continues to produce at the current rate, Abbrederis has a good chance of becoming the first 1000-yard receiver in Bret Bielema’s seven-year tenure as Wisconsin’s head coach. Four have eclipsed 900 yards—Toon and Abbrederis in 2011, and tight ends Lance Kendricks and Travis Beckum in 2007 and 2006, respectively—but nobody has cracked 1000 since Brandon Williams in 2005, Barry Alvarez’s final year.
Abbrederis is also starting to show up in the UW record books. He is currently tied for sixth in school history with 16 receiving touchdowns and is three short of tying Jonathan Orr and moving into the top three. He currently sits at No. 11 in career receiving yards with 1,621 and could realistically make a run at the top five before his junior season is over.
You will not be able to get Abbrederis to talk about personal accomplishments, particularly not in the throes of UW’s league schedule, but that does not make the first half of his 2012 campaign any less impressive.