Northwestern vs. Wisconsin: Badgers Prove They Can Win Through the Air Too

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IOctober 12, 2013

MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 12: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers scrambles out of the pocket and makes the pass upfield during the first half of play against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium on October 12, 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Jared Abbrederis' day started off like this: a fumble on his first catch, a target that was incomplete, followed by a 71-yard touchdown pass and then dropping a pass that resulted in an interception. 

Not exactly how a wide receiver would like to start off his day, especially one as important as Abbrederis is to his team. 

The news only got worse from there, as Abbrederis went to the locker room and emerged sans-helmet. He would be declared out for the rest of the game. 

With the top receiving threat out, most assumed Wisconsin would go all ground-and-pound on Northwestern for the rest of the game. 

Oct 12, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (4) rushes with the football after catching a pass during the first quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODA
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Except, the Badgers did the exact opposite on their way to beating down Northwestern, 35-6, and sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten—they can pass the ball with ease as well. 

Joel Stave finished the day 17-of-28 passing for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, he was credited with two interceptions as well, but one of those was completely on Abbrederis. 

Don't get it twisted, though, the Badgers still ran the ball, and ran it well, but the mix of run and pass following Abberderis' injury certainly was stunning. 

The Badgers finished with an impressive 286 yards on the ground but balanced it out pretty well with the 241 yards through the air and gave Northwestern so many looks it kept the Wildcats defense off-balance for most of the day.

With Wisconsin's main target down for the count, the Badgers didn't have a single player take over his role, but did it by committee and did it successfully as well. 

Stave completed passes to nine different receivers on the day—hitting four receivers, four running backs and a tight end.

In fact, the leading receiver on the day was tight end Jacob Pedersen, who finished with four catches for 30 yards and a touchdown in the win. 

Stave's day was his most impressive against an FBS foe to date, at least in terms of passing touchdowns: 

Had you told someone before the game that Abbrederis would go down early and Wisconsin would still pass the ball effectively most would've told you you were crazy, yet that's exactly what the Badgers did. 

Was it perfect? Far from it at times and there are things to work on going forward, but the how of what Wisconsin did what it did through the air has to give the Badgers offense some confidence going forward.

Credit a lot of what happened on Saturday afternoon to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig as well. After the Badgers stalled out on their first few possessions, he changed things up and used the pass to set up the run instead of the other way around. 

Following three series where UW ran the ball on first down, Wisconsin used play action and hit Abbrederis for a 63-yard touchdown pass. From there on out, the offense completely opened up and Northwestern just couldn't find an answer to whatever Wisconsin was doing.

With Stave completing a career high in yardage against Ohio State two weeks ago and following it up with another solid performance minus his main target, this offense clearly has become more than handing the ball off and throwing it deep. 

More than anything else that happened in the 35-6 victory, the ability of the Badgers to spread the ball out in the pass game and to show they can beat you equally on the ground and through the air will give future opponents an added thing to look for.


*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.