The Wisconsin Badgers are looking to make a run back to the Big Ten title game in 2014 in a newly expanded conference under second-year head coach Gary Andersen. One of the biggest question marks about this Badger team heading into the season is the passing game. While 2013 starting quarterback Joel Stave returns, he’s not guaranteed the job for 2014 and will be in an “open competition” with junior Tanner McEvoy this fall. Despite McEvoy spending the 2013 season as the team’s starting safety, Stave has legitimate reason to worry about retaining his starting job this season.
Stave was far from terrible as the starter in 2013, completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns, which is impressive considering the run-heavy offense of the Badgers. But Stave couldn’t seem to rise to the occasion in difficult games when Wisconsin needed to pass to win and his 13 interceptions were far too high for a ball-control offense with the type of running game that Wisconsin brings to the table. Stave needed to show some growth this offseason to put doubts about his ability to rest but a shoulder injury that sidelined him during the spring only opened the door for McEvoy to make a push.
At Big Ten Media Days, Andersen had glowing praise for McEvoy, who came to Wisconsin as a junior college quarterback before switching to defense for the 2013 season. He called McEvoy “a very good athlete” who was “very smart, intelligent” and went to call him an “elite athlete.” While Stave has the experience of running this offense working for him, a lack of athleticism and playmakers at receiver could cost him his job.
After losing the team’s top four pass-catchers from 2013, including Jared Abbrederis, there is a noticeable void of experience at the receiver position. Kenzel Doe has been singled out as a possible leader after an “unbelievable” offseason and a strong spring, but he has just 25 career receptions going into his senior season, including seven for 57 yards in 2013. Andersen anticipates that at least two incoming freshmen will have to see time at receiver just to fill out their rotation with capable athletes.
That inexperience at receiver will only hurt Stave’s chances of retaining his job. Without proven playmakers in the passing game, Stave becomes severely limited as a straight drop-back, pocket passer type of quarterback. McEvoy brings another element to the offense with his athleticism which would add a new wrinkle to the Wisconsin running game (which should be one of the best in the country with Melvin Gordon) and take the pressure off a young group of receivers as they get up to speed.
The pressure will be on Stave during fall camp to prove that his experience makes him the right choice to lead this offense into 2014. To do that, he needs his receivers to step up and play big and to cut down on the costly mistakes to create some semblance of a passing attack for the Badgers. If he can’t do that, it’s very likely that McEvoy’s legs push Stave to the sidelines.