Alex Erickson was going to be hard to replace. That much we knew.
What we didn’t know was which Wisconsin receiver would take over that role. Who would surface as the primary target for a brand new quarterback this season?
Answer: multiple guys.
Robert Wheelwright, Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli have all answered the call in the first two weeks of the season. In eight quarters, each of the three has caught at least eight passes and all three have over 100 receiving yards. Peavy is the only one who’s been in the end zone, catching two touchdown passes in Wisconsin’s 54-10 win over Akron on Saturday.
It’s a great set of weapons for the Wisconsin offense and an added benefit for new quarterback Bart Houston.
Everyone knew the Badgers would be fueled by Corey Clement. Wisconsin loves to run the football, and with a Heisman hopeful in the backfield, steering away from that mentality would be difficult to justify. If Paul Chryst and the Badgers wanted to have any shot at claiming the B1G West, though, the passing game was going to have to be a factor.
That can be a hit-or-miss situation with a fresh face under center. For Houston, his maturing receiving corps has made life a little easier. And it’s going to make Wisconsin’s offense harder to stop.
Wheelwright has been the most consistent receiver in the first two games, catching four passes for 60 yards against LSU and grabbing another four receptions for 99 yards against Akron. He’s also the most athletic and has already made a highlight-worthy catch in the Week 1 win over the Tigers.
As the season progresses, Wheelwright is the likely candidate to separate himself from the rest of Badgers receivers. He’s got the essential qualities needed to become a team’s top target. He’s the most experienced, is the team’s best route-runner and owns the most reliable set of hands.
No matter how talented he is, though, he won’t match Erickson’s production. The two-year leader in receptions for the Badgers hauled in 132 passes for 1,750 yards and six touchdowns in 2014 and 2015. Those are pretty tough numbers to match.
That’s why it’s important Wisconsin has a trio of receivers that have been integral pieces in the offense. It’s good for the Badgers to have several dependable guys on the field, and a variety of options for Houston has he continued to get accustomed with the scheme.
Against LSU, Fumagalli was the leading pass-catcher, grabbing seven passes for 100 yards. Peavy caught just two for 11 yards.
The script flipped a week later.
Peavy was the team’s top receiver with seven catches for 100 yards and a pair of TDs against Akron. Fumagalli had two receptions for 15 yards.
Early in the year, we’re already seeing the multiple weapons of the Wisconsin offense. It doesn’t have to depend on one guy for its production. Houston isn’t relying on one guy to haul in passes. The Badgers are spreading the wealth.
As long as Clement stays healthy – he endured an injury that took him out of the second half against Akron – the ground attack will continue to be Wisconsin’s bread and butter. And it will win plenty of games sticking with that formula.
Proving to be a threat in the air? That gives the Badgers a chance to get back to Indianapolis in December. Two games in, the passing game looks like it could be a real weapon this season.
That trio of Wisconsin receivers is a big reason for that early success.