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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Brazzoni: Wheelwright’s emergence opens options in UW passing attack

Joey Reuteman

On a regular day, Badger fans might be disappointed to see their No. 1 wide receiver — fifth-year senior Alex Erickson — failed to find the end zone in a Saturday afternoon blowout against a lowly Miami (Ohio) squad.

On a regular day, Erickson would dictate the success of the University of Wisconsin passing game. If Erickson found success, the team likely moved the ball well through the air. If not, well, you had to pray that UW could have better luck on the ground.

But Saturday was no regular day and this is definitely not your regular Wisconsin receiving corps.


The team no longer has to rely on Erickson to make the big plays downfield and carry the entire unit on his back. Starting quarterback Joel Stave no longer has to have tunnel vision as he looks at his receivers, praying that Erickson finds a way to get open

Enter junior Robert Wheelwright: savior of the Wisconsin football team’s passing attack.

Wheelwright is someone UW coaches and fans have been waiting on for the past several seasons, as a plethora of injuries kept the promising wide out off the field and absent from the box score.

This was not the case Saturday, as Wheelwright stepped on the field and had his long-awaited breakout game, catching a team-high six balls for 79 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the first half.

The junior proved to be the big-play guy and red zone target the Badgers have craved these past two years, but more importantly, he proved he was healthy.

“For me, it’s always been about staying healthy,” Wheelwright said. “It’s been about being called upon and being able to make the best of my chances.”

Despite Wheelwright saying he made the best of his chance, it was clear he could have been even better.

In the closing moments of the first half, Stave threw a near-perfect pass to Wheelwright as he made a post route to the end zone, but the ball slipped through his fingertips.

Wheelwright was half of a finger away from recording three touchdowns in one half.

“[I was kicking myself] just a little bit, but I had to get over it and continue to play. But, it could’ve been a third touchdown,” Wheelwright said of the play. “The coaches just told me to keep my feet moving and try to run through it.”

Now, Wheelwright’s breakthrough is not to take anything away from Erickson, who remains a staple and a leader of this receiving corps and the Wisconsin offense in general.

But Wheelwright’s presence is a game-changer, as his success gives himself, the coaches and the entire team confidence in their passing attack; confidence that neither the team nor its fans had just a year ago.

Most importantly, it makes Erickson’s job a heck of a lot easier.

“Obviously I’m playing more in the slot and my role is a little different with catching inside and running the shorter routes,” Erickson said. “But [Wheelwright] is the X and that’s what we need. A big guy that’s not afraid to high-point a ball and come down with it.”

And, despite the fact that Erickson has to change his role a bit to accommodate more weapons in the passing game, he’s more than happy to do so for the betterment of the team.

“I think the more that we get more people involved, the better we will be off,” Erickson said. “It only gets tougher down the stretch, so the more guys we can get touches and the more making plays, the better.”

Erickson may start not getting as many looks as he once did or stuff the receiving stat sheet as he once did, but that’s not the point.

The point is he doesn’t have to.

He doesn’t have to face double coverage on a weekly basis. He doesn’t have to be put in a position he’s not comfortable in. He doesn’t have to act as a big target in the red zone one play and short-yardage guy the next.

Thanks to Wheelwright, Erickson can now be Erickson, and the passing game has the opportunity to reach new heights.

“[It was] just a great day. We played great,” Wheelwright said. “As a team we did a great job of coming out there in front of all our fans in our first home game and it was just kind of like a welcome home game.”

Hopefully, for the sake of the fans and the potential success of this Badger offense, what Wheelwright described Saturday as a “great day” can be seen as a “regular day” for Wisconsin football going forward.

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