Joel Stave may be the most bipolar Quarterback in America, and it drives Badger fans nuts. The 6’5″ 225lb redshirt Junior is one of the most accomplished signal callers in Wisconsin history, yet he’s not the clear cut favorite to start this weekend, against an Illinois team that Stave led the Badgers to a 56-32 victory in Champaigne, throwing for 189 yards on 16-21 passing for two touchdowns, and most importantly, no turnovers a year ago. Illinois’ porous defense should provide a good environment for Joel to flourish in his new role, and take the lead in the Quarterback competition. Stave has been an enigma so far this season, but could be the answer to the Badgers’ problems, headlined by their inability to throw.
Why wasn’t Stave under center to start the season? He lead the Badgers to a 9-4 record and Stave threw for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago, second only to Russell Wilson in Badger history. He looked good against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl before injuring his shoulder. After the season, the coaching staff decided to move McEvoy back to his preseason position (Quarterback)to compete for the starting position. Stave sat out of spring practices to nurse his injured shoulder, and both players entered camp with the intentions of being the starter. Throughout camp, it appeared as though Stave was the better quarterback, but when McEvoy was named the starter, something inside the psyche of Stave broke. He started having major issues completing routine passes, as even documented by the announcers pregame before the LSU game. Stave then revealed to the media that he had the “yips”, otherwise known as a mental block that prevents athletes from performing routine plays that they’ve done for years. He fell as far as fourth on the depth chart, before reports started surfacing that Stave was starting to get his rhythm back. The week prior to the Northwestern game, he had clawed and fought his way through his mental issues back up to second on the depth chart.
Melvin Gordon III, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate can only carry his team so far before the Badgers need their quarterback to step up and alleviate some of the pressure. Along with his backfield mate Corey Clement, who together may form the nation’s most potent rushing tandem. Gordon is third in the nation right now with 871 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. While these numbers are impressive, Melvin along with the rest of his teammates need someone to lead the offense. To this point in the season (aside from exploding for 283 passing yards against FCS Western Illinois), the Badger’s starter so far this season Tanner McEvoy has struggled throwing the ball, including a 50 yard effort in the season opener against LSU. McEvoy’s struggles ultimately culminated in Coach Gary Anderson’s decision to insert Stave into the game, for his first reps of the season.
Entering the game a new man from a month ago, Stave went under center. Hand off, Hand off, sack. A microcosm of the success of the position thus far this season. McEvoy was 4-10 for 24 yards to that point in the first half, when this forced Anderson’s hand, pulling Tanner for the starter for the past season and a half. Starting the second half, Stave led the Badgers down the field for a touchdown and finally showing some life in the Badger offense outside of the running game. It looked like Stave energized Wisconsin, who has suffered from sluggish starts all year. Which has been blamed partially on the Quarterback position. Stave would get hit as he threw on their next possession which resulted in an interception, something Badger fans criticized him for a year ago when he had 13 interceptions. Stave went on to throw for 119 yards during the second half and even had the Badgers down to the three yard-line when he made a bad decision to force the ball into the endzone, resulting in an interception. On the next drive, he bounced back by launching two beautiful passes: a 24 yard dime to Tight End Sam Arneson, then hitting Wide Receiver Kenzel Doe for a 19 yard touchdown. Suddenly the Badger’s aerial attack looked potent and Stave looked like the player who’s won 13 games in his Badger career. It proved to be a little too late, as Stave threw a third interception, after having to force the ball downfield as time waned in the contest.
Ultimately, Stave gave Badger fans some hope that a passing game could come together to aid the workhorses carrying the ball. Stave was blessed with playing with Jared Abbrederis last season and he doesn’t have that luxury this year as the Badgers receivers have been criticized for not being able to separate from opposing secondaries. Joel’s arm strength bodes well for the Badger offense, who feasts off of play-action passes. Stave torched Ohio State defense a year ago for 295 yards, and has shown the ability in the past to stretch defenses vertically and take the top of the coverage. Stave and McEvoy are slated to split time this weekend vs. Illinois, but Coach Anderson is looking for one of the Quarterbacks to make their decision easier.
Wisconsin would be best suited for Stave to take over the position from McEvoy and allow Tanner to move to either his position last year at Safety, or even Wide Receiver. The latter could possibly solve some of the Badger’s receiving woes. McEvoy is an incredible talent and athlete, but his skills don’t translate well to the Pro-Style attack of Wisconsin.
Stave, the Greenfield, WI native is an in-state product, who has as much prototype pro-potential as any Badger quarterback since Jim Sorgi. He’s the ideal size, is deceptively athletic, and has a cannon on his shoulder. However, his decision making at times has been spotty and his ball placement leaves something to be desired occasionally. He has no issue throwing the ball 50-60 yards in the air and he can make every throw you need him to make. His biggest mistake is probably following Russell Wilson, who completely changed what fans expect out of the position at Wisconsin.
Provided Stave can take over the job and play well, he could potentially turn into a Tom Savage like prospect in the 2016 Draft, someone scouts could drool over with his size, football IQ and arm strength. Stave has been revered by his teammates as a great leader and those skills appeal to NFL teams, at least enough to get an opportunity for a roster spot. His year and a half of starting experience also doesn’t hurt him, as he could end up with about three years starting experience by the time his career ends in Madison. For the Badgers’ sake, it might be in their best interest.