Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Breaking Down the Badgers' Quarterback Competition

Taking over a football program like the Wisconsin Badgers affords certain luxuries that are not available at Utah State, like brand new team iPads for example. Unfortunately for new coach Gary Andersen an established quarterback is not one of them.  Andersen has been adamant competition for the starting job is wide open and has stressed the QB must be able to attack defenses with his arm and his legs. At this point, no one on the roster has demonstrated a consistent ability to provide both options consistently. With that in mind there are a few candidates who may fit the bill. The benefit of having Andersen walk in with a fresh take with no preconceived notions or bias and will ultimately result in the best man taking the first snap against UMass on August 31. With fall camp kicking off this week, now would be a good time to review the players in the mix.

The Young Guns

Connor Senger – Freshman – Milwaukee Pius XI
Photo: Rivals.com
A dual threat QB whose stature (he’s 5’11”) and baseball playing earned him the nickname “Young Russ” after former Badger QB Russell Wilson by teammates during summer workouts. Senger chose to walk on at Wisconsin for a chance to play close to home in front of friends and family. This summer during the WFCA Big Schools All Star game for high school seniors his dual threat capabilities were on full display, he threw 4 touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards. At this point he will mostly spend time as a scout team QB in preparation for opposing teams that run a spread option. But don’t discount his role in the future because seriously, he looks like Russell Wilson.

Bart Houston – Redshirt Freshman – De La Salle(Ca)

Houston was highly touted out of high school and recruited by former offensive coordinator and current Pitt head coach Paul Chryst. He has NFL QB size at 6’4” 217lb and arm strength but so far has not been consistent in accuracy and decision making against college level defenders. Houston does possess enough elusiveness running the ball to warrant consideration in Coach Andersen’s desire for an option threat at QB. However at this point in his development he does not appear ready as the lead signal caller.  Keep an eye out for him in future years though.

The Longshot

Curt Phillips – Senior

No one will question Curt Phillips desire or competiveness. Last year he helped lead the Badgers to a third consecutive Rose Bowl after overcoming three ACL tears and sitting out football completely for two years. Keeping the team together through all the adversity last year cannot be understated. Phillips was also at the forefront of players who sought out Barry Alvarez to be on the sidelines for the Rose Bowl after Bret Beilema left for Arkansas. Even after three surgeries Phillips is an effective and potentially dangerous ball carrier, but his arm strength and the coach’s confidence in his passing will prevent him from winning the starting gig. During the Badger spring game the offense stuck mostly to the ground when Phillips played and seemed too predictable. Similar to the last 5 games of the year, the offense ran every play it could and only passed when down and distance dictated. Based on Andersen’s continued preaching of being able to attack through the air as well as the ground I just don’t see how Phillips can be the answer without drastic improvement from the spring.

Photo: thestate.com
The JUCO Everyone Thinks Will Start

Tanner McEvoy – Redshirt Sophomore

McEvoy originally attended South Carolina before enrolling at Arizona Western Junior College, where he put up some ridiculous stats. He finished the 2012 Junior College season first in completion percentage, second in passing touchdowns and second in passing yards per game. In addition he ran for 414 yards and 6 touchdowns. Needless to say, his resume bodes well for the dual threat option game that Andersen has coveted. What McEvoy lacks though, is time in the program. He did not arrive in Madison until June and must make up ground on Phillips and Stave who have had several weeks of practice under the new coaching staff in the spring. In order to help speed the process Andersen has paired McEvoy and Phillips together in a new tradition called “Big Brother” where returning players are partnered with first year players to help familiarize them to with the program. Pairing the two quarterbacks is a decidedly calculated move, which will hopefully bring McEvoy up to speed more quickly in addition to bringing out the best in both players.

The Favorite

Joel Stave – Redshirt Sophomore
Ironically, Stave made his college debut last year against Gary Andersen led Utah State. After taking over the full time starting roll against UTEP, Stave slowly but surely took control of the offense. In four of his six starts the offense had over 400 total yards compared to just two other outings with 400 yards in the eight other games of the year. Big play wide receiver Jared Abbrederis had 30 receptions, 565 yards and 3 touchdowns in games started by Stave and 19 catches, 272 yards and 2 TDs without him. With Stave at the helm it is clear the Badger offense was performing at another level. Stave has demonstrated poise and confidence in leading a big play offense against Big Ten caliber defense and despite his limitations as a runner, Stave deserves to enter the season with the #1 QB job his to lose.

A Prediction

Gary Andersen has thus far stuck me as a savvy coach who will utilize all weapons at his disposal to put the Badgers in the best position to win. I would not be surprised however if Andersen takes a page from mentor and friend Urban Meyer. In 2006, Meyer effectively used returning starter Chris Leak and upstart freshman Tim Tebow at various points on the way to a national title. While no player on the Badger roster has talent equal to either Leak or Tebow, the concept of situational quarterbacking is a real possibility. I would expect McEvoy to have a few formations and play packages available for certain down and distances that will stress the defense in ways Stave cannot. Conversely, Stave has a remarkably accurate deep ball that can stop defenses from loading the box much like they did last year under Curt Phillips. Remember this is Andersen’s first year with the program. The offense is not likely to have the same look or feel in two or three years when he has a roster filled with players recruited for his style. Like all good coaches he will adapt and blend what he wants to be with what he currently has.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson (@olewr7)

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