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How a Badgers WR overcame drop issues for a major catch vs. Illinois

The Badgers needed all the help they could get in a victory over Illinois

Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Skyler Bell understands that he hasn’t had the start he envisioned for the 2023 season.

Drops and consistency have been issues for Bell over the first seven games of the season, who has seen solid playing time as the No. 2 slot wideout behind Cincinnati transfer Will Pauling.

However, when it mattered the most, Bell showed up in a tough moment against the Illinois Fighting Illini, catching a 30-yard slot fade with under two minutes remaining to set the Badgers up inside the five-yard line for the eventual game-winning score.

It was a moment of reflection for the slot wideout, as his coaches continued to instill trust in Bell through the tougher moments, and he delivered with a much-needed catch over the shoulder.

That confidence from his coaches means a lot to Bell, who has looked to repay the trust with plays like the one to end Saturday’s game.

“I just think [that confidence from the coaching staff] means a lot to me,” Bell said. “I haven’t had probably the start to the season that I wanted. I just think Coach Longo, Coach Brown and Coach Fick just keeping trust in me, keeping that confidence in me, keeping my confidence up, still coming at me on plays and I just try to make as many plays as I can when the ball goes my way.”

That confidence is the stepping stone for Bell, who anticipates a bigger second half of the season as he looks to build off Saturday’s game.

“You always have those little moments when you drop a pass or something, doesn’t go your know, you have them like, ‘dang’,” Bell said. “But I just think having the guys around me and the coaches around me know, always lifting me up, staying confident in me, keeping that trust in me is big for me.”

“And I always stay confident in myself, which is good for me because I think as the season moves forward, I think it’ll be big.”

As for that specific play, while the outcome was massive, the process was actually quite simple for the wideout, who read the cornerback’s leverage, which turned his route into a slot fade, something Wisconsin practices every day.

“So basically I was just looking at the corner if he was pressed, I had the two-fade, which I ran,” Bell said. “If he was off, I had kind of like a seam ball. So I seen he was pressed. And me and Braden, we do those balls every practice. So just like practice, he gave me a chance and I [went up and made the play].”

While certain rotational players for the Badgers have seen fluctuating playing time, Bell has been up there amongst the top reserves, which in part has been due to Wisconsin’s flexibility in playing four-receiver sets.

Bell especially likes those looks and the space they provide for the offense, allowing the Badgers to move quickly, especially in two-minute drill opportunities.

“There’s a lot of space out there,” Bell said. “Me and Will in the slot, I feel like we can’t be guarded in there because you got to guard somebody and I feel like somebody’s always open. As you all saw in that last two minute at the end of the half. We move the ball so fast, it’s hard to stop us running that.”

Bell understands the inconsistencies need to improve, but Saturday was a stepping stone fo the receiver’s confidence, and he’s ready to turn it around in the second half, which starts against the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend on primetime.