Wisconsin Badgers Position Breakdown: Quarterback
Yesterday, I looked at the Badgers‘ running back situation for this upcoming season. Today, I’m going to delve into the team’s quarterback situation. While Montee Ball was the pillar in the middle of the team’s stalwart rushing attack, quarterback was a revolving door last season due to injuries and ineffectiveness. The team used three starting quarterbacks last season, Danny O’Brien, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips, each of whom started at least three games. This season, all three returned while also being joined by redshirt freshmen Bart Houston, Chase Knox and Thad Armstrong. Also coming into the mix will be junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy. Last season, the team’s passing game was a disaster, averaging only 156.9 yards per game, good for 115th out of 124 schools.
The race is between O’Brien, Stave, Phillips, Houston and McEvoy. Starting with Danny O’Brien, he opened up his Badger career going 19 for 23 with 219 yards and two touchdowns. This was against Northern Iowa at home, a game the team only won by five. While the completion percentage was phenomenal, O’Brien was captain checkdown all afternoon. The following week, O’Brien threw 38 passes for 172 yards and only good for 4.53 yards per attempt in a loss at Oregon State. In week three against Gary Andersen‘s Utah State, O’Brien went five for 10 for 63 yards and looked even worse, leading him to get pulled at halftime. From that point on, O’Brien went eight for 15 over the course of two games, not completing a pass longer than 11 yards. In all likehood, O’Brien will not be the starting quarterback this upcoming season.
Bart Houston was a highly-touted recruit coming out of Dublin, California. However, he hurt his shoulder in the spring of last year, leading to him taking a redshirt. Houston is not an ideal fit for Andersen’s system, not being particularly mobile and struggling in the pocket. Andersen thinks highly enough to have given him first-team reps in the spring, but I would be surprised to see him lead the team in their opener; however, down the road, Houston could be the starting quarterback come his junior or senior year.
Tanner McEvoy originally signed with and attended South Carolina for a year under a redshirt before transferring to Arizona Western College. He played there for a year and then decided between Oregon, West Virginia, Florida before picking the Badgers. McEvoy is 6-foot-6, 215 pounds and will likely see the field this season — whether as a quarterback or a tight end is yet to be seen. However, he adds an athleticism that few other quarterbacks on the roster can provide. A lot depends on how proficient a passer McEvoy is, as his atypical arm-slot and throwing motion can make some downfield throws exceedingly difficult. However, McEvoy could be under center on opening day, either as a starter or as a way to show different looks.
The race will probably come down between Stave and Phillips. Stave played in eight games last year, compiling 1104 passing yards to go with six touchdowns against three interceptions. Stave broke his clavicle against Michigan State, which kept him out for the rest of the year save for two plays in the Rose Bowl. One of those two plays was a perfect strike to Jared Abbrederis who dropped the ball in the endzone. Stave has the best arm on the team and showed last year that he is comfortable throwing the downfield pass, particularly on play action passes. Unfortunately, Stave is not particularly accurate on those deep throws and will need to demonstrate more consistency if he wants to be the starter.
This brings us to the man who has been penciled in by many as the opening day starter, Curt Phillips. No one has worked harder to get where they are today than Phillips. He has torn his ACL three times and now, in his sixth season as a Badger, is ready to be the starter. Phillips played incredibly admirably at the end of last season. With a full offseason to recover from lingering injuries, Phillips looks like the starter. Phillips brings the ability to run, along with his teammates trust into a locker room going through a coaching change. I would look to see Phillips as man under center on Aug. 31 when the Badgers take on the Massachusetts Minutemen.