It’s safe to label junior Jared Abbrederis a big-play wide receiver for the University of Wisconsin football team.
The Badgers had 45 pass plays last season of at least 20 yards and Abbrederis had 16 of them. He also had six of the 10 touchdown receptions of 20-plus yards.
Through three games this season, the Badgers have only four passing plays of 20-plus yards. Abbrederis has two of them — as well as the only touchdown — in the six quarters of football he played before suffering a concussion in the second quarter of the second game against Oregon State.
So, Abbrederis was welcomed back to practice on Tuesday, wearing a green no-contact jersey, with open arms by the Badgers.
After sitting out last week’s 16-14 victory over Utah State, Abbrederis was cleared earlier in the day and will be ready to face Texas-El Paso on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
He had no reservations about returning to practice after the concussion.
“I felt good out there, flying around, making plays, being out there with my teammates, playing the game I love,” he said. “It was good.”
Abbrederis’ return brings an immediate boost of confidence and energy to the offense.
“I just try to provide energy, big plays, just blocking, catching the ball, things like that,” he said. “If I get the ball, try to make something happen.”
The offense needs a boost. It averaged just 3.4 yards per play against Oregon State and 3.8 against Utah State. The passing game averaged 4.5 and 4.9 per attempt in those two games.
Since Abbrederis went out, the longest completion has been a 19-yarder to freshman Reggie Love last week.
“If he can go, then he certainly helps us,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “He’s a big, big-time target who can run.”
The problem isn’t just with the receivers, of course. Junior quarterback Danny O’Brien, who started the first three games, was benched at halftime last week and replaced by redshirt freshman Joel Stave.
UW coach Bret Bielema has told the team who the starter will be but does not plan to make it public before the game.
When Abbrederis was asked who would be throwing him passes on Saturday, he didn’t bite. “We’ve got three good QBs,” he said. “I guess we’ll just see what happens.”
He didn’t have much to say about the helmet-first hit to his chest by Oregon State linebacker Feti Taumoepeau, which Abbrederis never saw coming.
The pass was a little low, causing him to reach down and try to scoop it up. He bobbled the ball and as he went to catch it again, he was blasted.
“Just forget about that and move on,” he said. “It hurt a little bit, for a while, but I’m good now, I’ll just let that go.”
Abbrederis, who was taken to a local hospital in Corvallis, Ore., said the initial concerns were possible broken ribs as well as damage to his lungs. “It’s a blessing nothing more serious happened,” he said. “I’m just fortunate enough to be back.”
The Badgers’ lack of big plays extend to the running game, too. The only big run was a 20-yarder by backup tailback James White in the opener.
Abbrederis can help there as well since he’s also the best blocker among the receivers. He thought one of the issues last week was the receivers didn’t block well enough.
“If the linemen get their guys blocked up front and the running backs slip through, we have to make sure our guys don’t get the tackle,” he said.
It’s fairly straightforward for UW’s offense, which ranks No. 105 nationally in third-down conversions at 31.1 percent (14 of 45). Since it hasn’t been able to grind out long drives, it needs some big chunks or the scoring woes will continue. UW is ranks 113th in scoring at 16.3 points per game.
“You get a big play, that changes the game,” Abbrederis said. “That’s something we strive to do, especially at the wide receiver position. They look to us to do things like that.”