Wisconsin vs. Northwestern: With Jared Abbrederis out, the Badgers looked their best

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

It remains to be seen what Wisconsin looks like at its worst, but last Saturday the team's last remaining BIG question--who else can catch passes besides Jared Abbrederis?--was answered and the Badgers looked like the cream of the conference.

No, an injury to a player is never a good thing, especially one as consistent, electric and GOOD as Jared Abbrederis. But a good thing did come out of Abbrederis' head injury against Northwestern last weekend. Left to their own devices from the first quarter on, Joel Stave and a motley crew of pass catchers were able to stitch together something resembling a viable aerial attack. Nothing glorious, mind you--Abbrederis was still the team's leading receiver with just two receptions for 74 yards, 63 of which came on the inevitable bomb off play action--but something proficient. You probably aren't surprised to hear that the nine different pass catchers were the most in any game this season. In the process, Stave was able to complete better than 60 percent of his passes at 8.6 yards per attempt.

Jeff Duckworth, Alex Erickson and Jordan Fredrick all got in the act. Erickson in particular made a spectacular play adjusting and falling to the ground at the goal line to catch a deep pass thrown down the middle. We had heard about his capacity to make spectacular grabs during fall camp when he was dubbed by some (err, me) as a potential breakout star for Wisconsin. "Star" is too grand a term as yet, but he made everything out of his opportunity last Saturday, which may not have come along if Abbrederis stayed in the game.

The emergence of a receiving corps plasters over the last remaining weakness the Badgers had. Note: Nothing is "fixed." But Wisconsin now knows that on the best of days a thin offensive line can blast open huge holes, a piece-meal secondary can stand toe-to-toe against a precision passing attack with the help of a few clever personnel packages, and what was once a pedestrian group of receivers may finally be good enough to draw attention away from a superstar wideout and a big-play running game.

Before the season began, the B5Q brain trust to a man mentioned quarterback, O-line, the secondary and the receiving corps as the biggest concerns heading into the season. None of those four things have become the crippling weakness they could have been, and when all facets are good enough, performances like Saturday's on an all-too nice October day in Madison can occur and we can all feel really, really good and find silver linings in things like an injury to one Wisconsin's all-time great deep threats.

Now we know that Wisconsin has the capacity to be damn good, maybe even good enough to play with the best in the country. We still have yet to see what the Badgers look like at their absolute worse, when untimely injuries actually mean doom and young players make the mistakes we've been waiting for them to make. Every team left on the schedule is just good enough (save, perhaps, Minnesota) to trip the Badgers up if they relax too much on the gas pedal.

The day may come this season when Wisconsin drops a stinker and we all set the open thread on fire. In the mean time ... WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

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