With Jared Abbrederis out, Wisconsin’s passing game doesn’t wilt

MADISON, Wis. — It’s been said before that Jared Abbrederis is Wisconsin’s entire wide receiver corps. There are other players, yes, but when one man has twice as many catches as the rest of his group combined, his impact on a game is especially evident.

So when Abbrederis sustained a head injury during the first quarter of Wisconsin’s 35-6 victory against No. 19 Northwestern on Saturday, you can imagine the concern permeating through Camp Randall Stadium.

As it turned out, Wisconsin didn’t really need Abbrederis’ services the rest of the way. Abbrederis caught two early passes for 74 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown off a play-action pass from quarterback Joel Stave.

Stave, however, managed to complete 17 passes, and 15 went to players not named Abbrederis. That included four completions to tight end Jacob Pedersen, three to running back James White, two to receivers Jeff Duckworth and Jordan Fredrick and one apiece to Alex Erickson, Corey Clement, Melvin Gordon and Derek Watt.

“That’s been the challenge,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “We’ve talked about it all year long. Have a couple wide receivers step up and help Jared out. Well, today there was no Jared so they had to help our offense out. We’re getting better in that area.”

Added Stave: “I thought that was huge for everyone. Everyone knows how good Jared is. Other guys being able to step up and make plays was big for us.”

Andersen said he didn’t know the play on which Abbrederis suffered his injury. It may have occurred when Abbrederis tried to reach back for an underthrown Stave pass in the first quarter. He couldn’t collect it, and Northwestern’s Ibraheim Campbell intercepted the pass while tiptoeing out of bounds.

Abbrederis then was ruled out before Wisconsin began its next offensive series in the second quarter.

Andersen didn’t anticipate his star wide receiver would miss extended time.

“Jared looks good,” Andersen said. “I expect him right now to be ready to go next week. That would be the plan.”

Kicking change: Wisconsin kicker Kyle French continued his struggles with accuracy on field-goal attempts, and it appears to have cost him his starting job.

French missed a 38-yard field goal wide left during the second quarter — his third missed field goal this season on eight attempts — and was immediately replaced by backup Jack Russell.

Russell did not attempt any field goals, but he did make Wisconsin’s final three extra points. In his career, Russell is 0-for-3 on field-goal attempts. He has been equally ineffective this season — primarily in practice — and didn’t even travel with the team to Ohio State two weeks ago.

Still, Andersen said that, despite reservations, Russell was his kicker moving forward.

“We’ll have to practice through it,” Andersen said. “Definitely it’s a situation and we’re going to have to handle that situation. We’re going to have to be dynamic a little bit maybe sometimes on offense. But Jack will prepare.

“The good thing is if you sit back and the positive of this whole issue we have is we’re snapping the ball and we’re holding the ball very good. That’s a good sign. The next kicker that can step up there and just put them through, away we go. And that’s going to help all the kids. I’m not going to sit here and point fingers at anybody. I work with those kickers every Wednesday, so I’m as responsible as anybody for that ball not going in.”

Starting safety: Two weeks after Tanner McEvoy was on the field for 41 of 68 defensive snaps against Ohio State, he earned his first career collegiate start at free safety against Northwestern.

McEvoy, the 6-foot-6, 223-pounder who came to Wisconsin intent on competing for the starting quarterback job, recorded four tackles.

“He is a serious presence in the middle of the field,” Andersen said. “I’m really proud of that kid. You want to talk about just finding a way to get himself on the field. If you’d have told me or you’d told Tanner a year ago that you’d be playing Northwestern at Camp Randall, he might’ve said, ‘Yeah that can happen.’

But to say he’s going to be the starting free safety, no not so fast. He has done a great job. He’s a very smart young man. He’s very intelligent. Pre-snap, you look at him and say, ‘Whoa, that’s a good looking free safety in the middle of the field.’ He’s grown and developed and showed some signs today of making progress.”

McEvoy actually is playing his third position in the past two months. He began as a quarterback, then broke his scaphoid, a small bone at the base of his left thumb, during the team’s second scrimmage of fall practice. He tried playing wide receiver next but underwent surgery to insert a screw and switched to safety.

“I came here as a quarterback,” McEvoy said. “I still think I’m a quarterback. But right now with the situation that we’re in, I’m playing safety and I’m loving it.”

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter