Jesse Temple's Nov. 13 Badgers mailbag
NOV 13, 2013 9:37a ET
We've reached the home stretch of the college football season, and so we're coming down to the wire on Badgers football mailbag questions. This week, we discuss possible future replacements for Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis, Tanner McEvoy as a long-term defensive option and the prospects of running back Melvin Gordon returning for his junior season.
As always, thanks to everyone who submitted questions this week:
Q: Who is the coaching staff high on to fill the shoes of Pedersen and Abbrederis when their time is done in Madison? Doesn't seem to me replacements are being developed, but it's hard to tell from my couch on Saturdays. Great job as always.
-- Mike, Lake Geneva, WI
A: To say that any player will be able to fill the shoes of tight end Jacob Pedersen or wide receiver Jared Abbrederis is a stretch. Let's consider that Pedersen is the reigning conference tight end of the year, and Abbrederis is about to pass Brandon Williams for second on UW's career receiving yards list. There simply aren't guys who will step in and fully replace that type of production.
Still, Wisconsin has to put guys out there, so who will they be? Sam Arneson seems to be a prime candidate at tight end. The junior has five catches this season for 56 yards and caught a touchdown pass against Ohio State while filling in for the injured Pedersen. He's the only player with a proven track record on the field that will be back next season. But let's not forget how deep and talented the Badgers always seem to be at tight end. They still have Austin Maly and Austin Traylor -- both will be redshirt juniors next year -- and young guys such as T.J. Watt and Troy Fumagalli. I think the future is bright at tight end.
As for receiver, this is one of the biggest questions moving forward. We've been talking about Abbrederis' value to the team for the past three years, and he's excelled the last two seasons without a solid No. 2 threat. You'd like to think someone like Jordan Fredrick will have learned enough from Abbrederis to take over as the top guy. Alex Erickson also has shown lots of promise and shares a similar story as Abbrederis -- walk-on quarterback to wide receiver.
In reality, Wisconsin probably will need to use a receiver-by-committee approach. To expect any player to suddenly start averaging 100 yards receiving per game is unrealistic. The Badgers need to hope their recruits develop enough consistency to make an impact on game day.
Q: Tanner McEvoy has been a terrific defensive addition. Do you think that they might just keep him there for next year? He could be all-Big Ten by senior year, at this rate of improvement.
-- Chris Van Wagner, Madison
A: McEvoy has told the media on several occasions that he still considers himself a quarterback. But it seems hard to believe he could come in during the spring or fall and unseat Joel Stave as Wisconsin's starting quarterback. And if he's going to be a backup quarterback, why not put him in a place where he can be of use? Besides, Bart Houston is plenty capable at quarterback and would make for a great backup option.
We know defensive coordinator Dave Aranda loves McEvoy at safety. McEvoy is listed at 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, so he's got the size to be a top-level Big Ten safety. I actually agree with your assessment that he could develop into one of the best players at his position in the Big Ten when it's all said and done. Consider that the coaching staff basically threw McEvoy right into the fire after he already tried quarterback and wide receiver in the fall. Now, he's a key piece to the puzzle and has 17 tackles with an interception.
The coaches have said all along that they want to get the best players on the field any way they can. McEvoy has a better chance to contribute on defense, and given the strides he has made in just a few short months, perhaps it's best for the team if he stays there.
Q: Looking ahead to next season, I think the most important question is whether Melvin Gordon will be back. Has he given any indication about his plans for 2014, or do you have any sense whether he'll enter the draft or come back? Thanks!
-- Mitch Cyldeburg, Madison, WI
A: Gordon has given no indication as to whether he'll return for his junior year in 2014. That probably scares a lot of Badgers fans, but he does seem to enjoy the college atmosphere. He would be the go-to guy in the backfield next season with James White gone, and that could appeal to Gordon as well. Plus, he'd be an early Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014 and would be on everybody's radar.
The way I see it is if Gordon submits his name to the NFL's draft advisory board -- and I would expect him to do so after the season -- and he hears back that he'll be a first-round draft pick, then he has to leave. I've talked to NFL Draft gurus who say this is not a particularly strong running back class for seniors, which actually boosts Gordon's draft stock. But the running back position has been devalued of sorts in a pass-heavy NFL, and there aren't any tailbacks listed as first-round picks right now.
Still, Gordon is a top-50 type of talent, which would put him in the second round. Maybe he decides the second round is too good to pass up. Or maybe he decides to come back for one more season to prove himself as a leader as Montee Ball did and improve his draft stock.
The one thing Wisconsin may have going for it is the path Ball chose. Despite being a Heisman Trophy finalist as a junior, he was told he'd be no higher than a third-round NFL draft pick. He returned for his senior season, and even though his numbers weren't quite as good, he wound up being taken in the second round.
-- Steven Joseph, Milwaukee, WI
A: If nothing else, it will put Wisconsin on the radar for East coast recruits when the Badgers play on TV against a local team (Rutgers or Maryland). At this point, Wisconsin has branched out and become more of a national player on the recruiting scene. Freshman running back Corey Clement set all sorts of records as a talented New Jersey prep player. His success, I believe, is more likely to attract other recruits from the area rather than the addition of Rutgers and Maryland.
This coaching staff has plenty of national ties, particularly to the West coast. But running backs coach Thomas Hammock has done a tremendous job of recruiting out East, and the staff also has ties to Florida.
Wisconsin currently has 18 commits for the class of 2014. Two players are from Maryland -- wide receiver Chris Jones and running back Taiwan Deal. Maybe that's all just coincidence, but the fact Wisconsin can pluck players from other programs' backyards is a positive sign moving forward. More exposure to other regions can only help Wisconsin when it comes time to find the next recruit. But the truest way to lure recruits is for players from those other states to excel at Wisconsin, which would make high school prospects want to be a part of something special.
Q: What sort of adjustments have stood out to you from Andersen as the season progressed? Personnel packages, play calling, schemes?
-- Sven, Denver
A: I think one of the most noticeable changes has been making a concerted effort to get tight end Jacob Pedersen the ball. Early in the season, Jared Abbrederis seemed to be the only player quarterback Joel Stave looked for in the passing game. In the first six games of this season, Pedersen averaged just 29.7 receiving yards per game. Over the past two, he is averaging 61.0 yards per game. That's a pretty significant jump, and it makes life even more difficult for defenses because now they have to worry about another offensive threat -- in addition to Abbrederis and running backs Melvin Gordon and James White.
"He's such a mismatch problem, and you see him continually catch contested balls," Badgres coach Gary Andersen said of Pedersen on Monday. "He runs great routes. He causes some real issues. I think we definitely made an effort to get the ball to him more. It's making him more productive, and it's making our offense better too."
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has done a nice job of keeping much of the old playbook to make the transition to a new coaching staff easier this season. Left guard Ryan Groy told me last week that "90 percent" of the playbook was the same, although that number seems high to me.
As the coaching staff grows more comfortable with the personnel, recruits its own players and has more time to implement its style, I think we'll see new wrinkles pop up offensively in the next few seasons. But you can't argue with the success of the team this season. Those 37.1 points per game are on pace to rank third in program history for a single season.
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