For what feels like a long time, the University of Wisconsin football team has sought consistent production from its two top wide receivers.
Lately in the program’s history, it hasn’t happened. But that may change in 2016, if Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright’s play during No. 10 Wisconsin’s 54-10 drubbing of Akron Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium was any indication.
Peavy, a redshirt junior, had a career day. He hauled in two touchdowns for the first scores of his Badger tenure. The fifth-year senior Wheelwright caught four passes for 99 yards, including a screen play that went for 47 yards down the Badger sideline.
“Rob makes me so much better,” Peavy said. “I’m sure I make Rob better. Practice, games, it don’t matter, we’re always pushing each other.”
It was arguably the most productive day for Wisconsin receivers in nearly three seasons. The last time two UW (2-0) receivers had more than 100 yards was the 2012 Rose Bowl, when Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis both eclipsed the century mark.
Wheelwright also said the one-two combo at receivers is a product of the starters feeding off each other.
“Use each other each week as motivation,” Wheelwright said when asked how they could improve off of Saturday’s performance. “Try to be better than the next guy.”
Wisconsin’s first drive demonstrated they would be dominant all day. The offense drove 83 yards on the first drive of the game, which took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Through the first two games of 2016, UW has outgained its opponents 331 to 11 in the first quarter.
After the season’s first two games, the UW defense is responsible for allowing just as many touchdowns as the team’s offense and special teams (one). The defense forced two turnovers on the afternoon. Fifth-year senior safety Leo Musso intercepted Woodson in the second quarter, after junior cornerback Derrick Tindal forced a fumble recovered by senior corner Sojourn Shelton.
Senior running back Corey Clement pounded the Akron defense early and often. In just two quarters, Clement carried the ball 21 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Clement was ruled out for the second half with a left leg injury and was on the bench having his ankles taped late in the second quarter.
“Seeing that we were up a lot, why risk it to turn into a bigger injury?” Clement said after the game. “I’ve dealt with injuries in the past, and I know it’s nothing to play with.”
Clement added he could have ran the ball 41 times if need be.
Bart Houston had another solid day under center, despite a shaky start. The fifth-year senior completed 15 of 22 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, both to Peavy in the second quarter.
After Clement’s first touchdown, Wisconsin was driving again when it faced a 4th-and-goal late in the first quarter. UW head coach Paul Chryst opted to keep the offense on the field in lieu of kicking a field goal. Clement made a nice cut to open space, and it looked like he’d score, but he slipped.
Akron took over at its own three-yard line. After a false start and an offensive pass interference, redshirt junior Alec James sacked quarterback Thomas Woodson in the end zone for a safety to put Wisconsin up 9-0.
“The o-line just slanted,” James said. “They slid pretty hard and I just kind of backdoored it. My teammates made him step up and I was just there to make the play.”
A one-yard touchdown run from Clement on UW’s next drive, followed by Peavy’s first touchdown, a 13-yard slant reception, put UW up 23-0. Akron wide receiver JoJo Natson put the Zips on the board with 3:12 remaining in the first half on a 55-yard punt return, during which Wisconsin’s coverage unit looked disorganized and got burned.
With 2:10 left in the second quarter, Houston dropped a dime into Peavy’s hands from 34 yards out for the pairs second touchdown connection of the game to increase the Badgers’ lead to 30-7. An Akron field goal as time expired to close the first half made it 30-10.
The Badgers went up 33-10 when Rafael Gaglianone’s lone field goal attempt was good from 33 yards out.
Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook replaced Houston at quarterback in the third quarter with efficiency. He completed all five of his passes for 61 yards, including a six-yard touchdown to sophomore fullback Alec Ingold in the flat to up the UW lead to 40-10 and a beautiful ball to freshman receiver A.J. Taylor on a corner route for 35 yards.
“It was fun to be out there,” Hornibrook said. “I was excited I got to go in and for the first one it felt pretty good.”
In the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw saw his first game action as a Badger. He ran for 74 yards on nine carries, and somersaulted into the end zone to cap a 35-yard touchdown run with 7:54 left in the game to make it 54-10, which held as the final score.
Redshirt junior fullback Austin Ramesh had scored his second career touchdown earlier in the fourth and upped Wisconsin’s lead to 47-10.