It's the classic trick - put an object in one hand and keep everyone looking at it while the other is doing something completely different. For Wisconsin, Ball is the object everyone has been paying attention to and that was allowing a wide receiver by the name of Jared Abbrederis to flourish, but last week despite a running game that got going at times with Ball something was missing - namely any semblance of a down field passing game. That got me to wondering, are we focusing on the wrong player as the key to the Badgers success in 2012?
Yes, Montee Ball is a heck of a running back and a big component to the Badgers success, there's no denying that fact, but that doesn't mean he's the biggest key to success for this team.
After all, there's a stable of running backs more than capable of picking up the slack for any poor performances or god forbid an injury to Ball. No such player exists on this 2012 team (as of yet) that can even come close to matching the performance of Abbrederis.
Ball hasn't been spectacular in 2012, but backing him up has been James White who actually has a better yards per carry average than Montee (4.6 vs. 3.8 yards per game). It's not as if we aren't in capable hands there, let's not forget White is just over a season removed from a 1,000 yard campaign.
What's been killing this offense isn't the lack of a running game, it's been the lack of an ability to stretch the field with the passing game to help open the running game and that makes Jared Abbrederis the key to success in my book.
Need statistical proof? Since Abbrederis went down with an injury during the Oregon State game Wisconsin has completed exactly two passes for more than 15 yards - 1 each to Reggie Love (19yds) and Jordan Frederick (16yds).
For the rest of the game against the Beavers the Badgers longest completion was for just 12 yards and that was to running back James White, not a single receiver had a catch over 11 yards outside of Abbrederis in the game.
In fact, outside of Abbrederis the longest pass completion of the season has gone to tight end Jacob Pederson for 22 yards in the opener against Northern Iowa.
Add up all the completions of 15 yards or more and Abbrederis has just 15 yards less than all other players on the team and they've all played 3 complete games to his 1 and about a half.
Without Abbrederis this offense is clearly not as explosive as it needs to be to be successful. He's the only wide receiver over 100 yards receiving and if it weren't for a 20 yard catch by Jordan Frederick he'd be the only wide receiver with a catch of 20 yards or more on the year.
Now some may say it's an issue that's more about the quarterbacks than it is about Abbrederis or a lack of an explosive play maker, but again I'd argue that's not true.
Since Abbrederis' injury the longest passing attempts have gone to both Montee Ball and Derek Watt, a running back and a fullback respectively, and both were over 30 yards down field. If that doesn't speak to a lack of a play maker they trust I don't know what does.
Having Abbrederis in the mix as a wide receiver is proving to be much more important, at least statistically, than I think just about anyone would've thought. Wisconsin gets him back on Saturday and he could help spring this offense back to life, especially if they give Stave the start like has been reported and suggested by us here since the "non-announcement announcement" on Monday.
It just goes to show you that perhaps a few of the running game issues could be best cured by showing some sort of threat down field to loosen up defenses and the only guy that appears capable of doing it consistently is Abbrederis. Feed him more deep balls and Wisconsin could become a very successful offense all around.