Gameday: ‘Sky Team’ looks to ground Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrerderis


Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Sophomore cornerback Nick VanHoose prepares to a cover a receiver. VanHoose, part of Northwestern’s “Sky Team” – a nickname for the secondary – will play a large role in slowing down Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis on Saturday.

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

For Northwestern to contain an improved Wisconsin aerial attack Saturday, the defense will need to call upon the help of the “Sky Team.”

“When passes go, we think that we should get every ball and control the sky,” junior safety Jimmy Hall said of the secondary.

The nickname for the secondary originated a few years ago when defensive backs coach Jerry Brown called upon former players Jordan Mabin and Demetrius Dugar to bring swagger back to this unit.

But the Sky Team will have its hands full patrolling the air above Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. The senior is second in the Big Ten in receiving, with 572 yards and four touchdowns. He lit up the Ohio State secondary in their meeting in September, recording 10 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown.

NU coach Pat Fitzgerald gushed about Abbrederis’ talent at a news conference Monday and even compared him to former Minnesota and current Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker.

“Great route runner,” Fitzgerald said of Abbrederis. “Conceptually, you can just see he understands how to stem guys. He understands how to use his hands and his body well without getting pass interference. He’s just crafty that way.”

NU’s top corner, sophomore Nick VanHoose, will most likely line up across from Abbrederis for most of Saturday’s game. VanHoose said the opportunity to shut down one of the conference’s best pass catchers is a cornerback’s No. 1 job.

“It’s a big confidence booster as well, too, when you come out and you make a play on a really good receiver,” VanHoose said. “Then you start getting that confidence like you’re a good defensive back.”

If Abbrederis lines up in the slot, he will have Hall waiting for him, looking to prevent his big-play capabilities.

“That’s how you make a name for yourself,” Hall said. “When you go against someone like Abbrederis, the whole stadium knows it’s just you and him one-on-one. You’re either going to win, or you’re going to lose.”

The Wildcats lost one of their starting cornerbacks in the first week of play when junior Daniel Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury. VanHoose said he’s assumed more of a leadership role with younger players such as redshirt freshman Dwight White and freshman Matt Harris.

White and Harris have battled back and forth to take hold of the spot across the field from VanHoose. White has seen the most snaps as the Cats’ second cornerback, but Harris replaced White midway through NU’s loss against Ohio State. Harris fared well, avoiding freshman mistakes that could have sunk the defense.

“I already felt like I’ve had to take Dwight under my arm,” VanHoose said. “Now that Matt Harris has come on, I’ve been giving him hints. I room with Dwight on Fridays, so we go over film together and give him some pointers and we help each other out.”

The Cats’ pass defense has been up and down so far in 2013. They are allowing 287.6 yards per game through the air, but opponents are averaging only 6.4 yards per pass attempt, and the defense has come away with 11 interceptions.

Fitzgerald wouldn’t play his hand on whether he will assign man coverage to Abbrederis or have help over the top from safeties, but Hall said defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz always has something up his sleeve.

“Coach Hank always has plays in his trick book,” Hall said. “He’s always going to come up with something that’s going to get us in the best position to defend him.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @John_Paschall