Paul Chryst has returned to Madison to take over as the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers in 2015. One of his first orders of business in his first spring practice at the helm is to settle the questions at quarterback. Returning starter Joel Stave seemed to survive a tumultuous 2014 season to return to the top of the depth chart, but his grip on the starting job for 2015 seems to be tenuous at best during Wisconsin’s spring practices.
The saga of Stave is well documented. After an up-and-down 2013 campaign that saw the 6-foot-5 signal caller complete 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards with 22 touchdowns, marred by 13 interceptions, the expectation level for Stave was raised significantly heading into the 2014 season. With the running game that Wisconsin used to control the clock, throwing 13 interceptions was simply unacceptable
He failed to live up to those expectations and lost his starting job to Tanner McEvoy, a more mobile quarterback option who had played safety during the 2013 season. McEvoy was supposed to add another wrinkle to the offense with his running ability, but his struggles in the passing game (65-of-112, 709 yards, 5 TDs, 6 INT) only made the Badgers more one-dimensional. Yet, even as he struggled, Stave remained sidelined.
As it turned out, losing his starting job had done a number on Stave’s psyche and he was struggling with a case of the yips. Struggles to make even the simplest of throws kept Stave out of the first four games of the 2014 season and threatened to end his football career. He got his head sorted out, though, and eventually regained the starting job for Wisconsin, finishing the year with 1,350 yards passing, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions (including just one touchdown and six interceptions in the final two games of the season).
This spring, McEvoy has moved back to defense to play safety but Stave still has competition for the starter’s job and they are reportedly making a very good case for themselves. Early enrollee Alex Hornibrook has been taking some of the first-team snaps at quarterback this spring (along with other potential QBs) and has apparently looked good while doing so. Hornibrook, a 6-foot-4 lefty signal caller, was recruited by Chryst while he was with the Pitt Panthers, so the coach obviously likes what the young man brings to the table.
He still has some ground to make up, of course, if he wants to unseat Stave. The senior owns a 20-6 record as a starter and the Badgers open up next season against the Alabama Crimson Tide, which is not an ideal spot to break in a true freshman signal caller. Stave has the experience and the chemistry with his offensive teammates so Chryst knows what he will bring to the table when the Badgers kick off 2015.
But for a young man that has already lost time to the yips, there have to be questions about how well he will handle the stress of a new coaching staff and a young, upstart quarterback gunning for his job. Will seeing Hornibrook in his rearview this spring cause Stave to slip and relinquish the starting job again this fall?