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Monday, February 26, 2024

Football: Offense looks to continute hot streak at Illinois

The next stop for No. 25 Wisconsin’s offensive machine is Champaign, Ill., where it will face Illinois this Saturday. The team is coming off an explosive performance over Northwestern at Camp Randall, where it put up 35 points in a rout of the then No. 19 Wildcats.

The Badgers’ biggest question mark coming out of the weekend is the health of star redshirt senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

Abbrederis, who had already scored on a 63-yard pass, was on his way to another huge game against the Wildcats before leaving the game in the first half with a head injury. However, the early prognosis looks good.

“Jared’s running around good and all indications are that he’ll be with us on Saturday,” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said.

Losing Abbrederis leaves a huge hole in the offense, as redshirt sophomore quarterback Joel Stave has targeted the Wautoma, Wis., native with almost 40 percent of his passes thus far this season, especially in the vertical passing game.

Saturday’s 63 yarder marked the ninth time the two have hooked up for a pass play greater than 40 yards, five of which have gone for touchdowns. Abbrederis also had a solid game against the Illini last season, finishing his day with 117 yards and a touchdown.

Even without his top target, Stave found a way to shine against Northwestern. The first drive after Abbrederis was injured Stave ended up going 5-for-5 with 52 yards passing before senior running back James White punched it in for a 1-yard score. Stave finished the game with 241 yards and three touchdowns.

This season he has been phenomenal in the red zone, maintaining a 70 percent completion rate while throwing for seven touchdowns with no interceptions.

For the first time all year sophomore running back Melvin Gordon also got involved in the passing game, recording a five-yard reception.

“I’m definitely looking forward to getting some more receiving yards,” Gordon said. “I do it in practice, it might be new to people, but I’ve been doing it since camp. (It was) just my opportunity to actually showcase it during the game.”

When Gordon is split out wide, he occasionally comes into motion for the jet sweep, a play that has seen huge success this season. Last Saturday Gordon ran the play for a 71-yard score, his fourth rush of more than 60 yards this season.

“Hopefully I get a crease so I can hit it, and if not you always got to make something happen,” said Gordon. “You don’t always get big holes and big creases, if you get a little crease, you try to make the best out of it.”

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The dynamic duo of Gordon and White has been making the most out of every run this season.

The two have already combined for nine 100-yard rushing games, and both rank in the top 30 nationally for rushing, the only in-team tandem to have that distinction this season.

A lot of that success has been due to the outstanding play of the offensive line, who will have their hands full Saturday dealing with Illinois’ 2012 Butkus award finalist senior linebacker Jonathan Brown and All-American sophomore linebacker Mason Monheim.

The duo make their living in opponents’ backfields, recording 10.5 tackles for losses already this year.

“They just have a nose for the ball. They are quick to react to the plays,” offensive line coach T.J. Woods said. “We have to keep our eyes on them, they are definitely tremendous players.”

The Badgers’ offense is definitely not short on tremendous players, but Coach Ludwig always thinks there is room for improvement.

“We need to improve on every aspect of offensive play,” Ludwig said. “We’ve got to run the ball with more efficiency. We’ve got to complete more passes, protect the passer better, so every area needs to improve.”

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