MADISON, Wis. — Jacob Pedersen could hardly be described as a demonstrative figure in the locker room. Wisconsin’s senior tight end is generally content to do his part for the Badgers’ offense, even if it means blocking a path for his wide receivers, while his statistics remain stagnant.
That doesn’t mean Pedersen is without a competitive streak. And given his talent level, coupled with his recent underuse in the passing game, he let it be known the ball should come his way more.
“He doesn’t do it in the kind of tone that Dez Bryant may be doing it,” Badgers quarterback Joel Stave said of the occasionally ill-tempered Dallas Cowboys receiver. “But he’ll be like, ‘Hey Joel, I’m trying to get my catches up. Go ahead and throw me the ball. I’ll be open. Throw me the ball.’ I’ve got a lot of confidence in him that he will be open, so it’s fun to throw it.”
Stave and Pedersen hooked up for one of the biggest plays of Saturday’s game against Iowa — a 44-yard touchdown pass that put Wisconsin ahead 7-6 just before halftime. The Badgers went on to win 28-9 and never relinquished the lead after the touchdown catch.
“The biggest thing for me wasn’t just showing that I can be a force, because I believe I can,” Pedersen said Monday. “If others don’t, I don’t really care. I know we can. Hopefully coach (Andy) Ludwig, Stave, everybody else knows that I can make the plays for us, which I think they do. The biggest thing for me on that play was jump-starting our offense.”
The play itself spoke to Pedersen’s value as a reliable complementary threat to receiver Jared Abbrederis. Pedersen lined up to the left, while Abbrederis was in the slot on the right side of the field. Stave looked off Abbrederis, who was covered by multiple defenders, and found Pedersen 1-on-1 inside the 10-yard line.
Pedersen used his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame to do the rest, catching his third touchdown pass of the season and the 17th of his career.
“I just kind of said, ‘Hey, Jared is going to be getting tripled or have four guys on him,'” Pedersen said. “I actually kind of laughed because when I watched that play, there were three guys watching Jared. If teams are going to start doing that, if it’s me, if it’s the receivers, if it’s anybody, we’re going to have to have guys step up if we’re going to continue to be successful.”
Pedersen said he began pleading for more touches over the past couple of weeks, getting in Stave’s ear as well as tight ends coach Jeff Genyk. Pedersen, the reigning Big Ten Tight End of the Year, has 18 catches for 251 yards.
Nationally, he ranks 29th in receiving yards this season among tight ends, although his yards per catch (13.9) are his highest since his freshman season (16.5).
“Last couple weeks, just talking with Joel, like, ‘Hey, when I’m open, come to me,'” Pedersen said. “I will help you. I’m going to make the play no matter where you put it. Always talking to coach, like, ‘Hey, put in this play.’ They’re all plays that we’ve always had and I’ve always liked. So I just kind of wanted to start running them and I wanted to be able to help our offense.”
Stave said Pedersen came to him “a couple” times before the Iowa game. He added that Pedersen mentioned he wanted to outshine Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, another highly regarded senior. Fiedorowicz caught just one pass for 16 yards.
Badgers coach Gary Andersen noted he had been most impressed by Pedersen’s unselfishness this season. While Pedersen wants the ball more, he asks because he knows it will help the team win rather than simply pad his statistics. Before the Iowa game, Abbrederis had garnered a total of 75 targets, while Pedersen and running back James White were second with 22 targets.
“He doesn’t count his opportunities as far as, ‘Oh, I’m not getting enough reps,'” Andersen said. “But when he gets out there, he produces. He’s a good producer; he is a good practice player. When he gets an opportunity to make plays in the throw game, he’s shown he can make those plays.
“Is he the next-level tight end? I don’t make those decisions. But in my book I believe he is. He’s a tremendous tight end – he blocks, he’s physical, he’s smart, great hands, he’ll catch the ball over the middle and he’s got good speed – so I think he causes matchup problems at any level.”
With four games remaining in the regular season, Pedersen hopes he and Stave have developed enough trust by now that they can connect on many more pass plays to help the Badgers win.
“If he doesn’t trust you to make the play, if he’s like, ‘OK if I throw it to him here, is he going to make the catch?'” Pedersen said. “Well, obviously he’s going to go to Jared (with whom) he’s got all the confidence in the world. He knows Jared’s going to fight for the ball. I’m just fighting to get to that point.
“I think we are now. I think Joel knows that when he comes to me with the ball, I’m going to do everything in my ability to make a play on it. For any receiver-QB combo in the country, trust is easily the most important thing.”