Andersen’s quarterback option: not announcing Badgers’ starter
It has been thought for more than a week that Joel Stave (left) will be the starter for No. 14 Wisconsin's Aug. 30 season opener against No. 13 LSU. But Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen doesn't plan to publicly announce his starting signal-caller before the Badgers clash with the Bayou Bengals.
MADISON, Wis. — If you were looking for some great revelation to emerge about Wisconsin’s starting quarterback situation following Monday’s team scrimmage, well, keep looking. You won’t hear a peep from Badgers coach Gary Andersen about which man — Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy — is in the lead.
In fact, Andersen is playing his cards close enough to the vest that media members weren’t allowed to watch the portion of Monday’s session that featured Stave and McEvoy. Instead, the media saw only 11 plays from scrimmage with the third-team offense.
The most intriguing position battle left, then, will remain under wraps.
"Both those kids are still right there," Andersen said following the scrimmage. "Like I said a long time ago, we may know who the starter is, but we’re not going to say who the starter is until we jog out on the field for the LSU game. There’s no big announcement. (We) don’t make a big announcement for the right tackle, don’t make a big announcement for the starting nose guard. So we’re not going to do that for the quarterback, either."
It has been thought for more than a week that Stave will indeed be the starter for No. 14 Wisconsin’s Aug. 30 season opener against No. 13 LSU. He has generally demonstrated more consistency in the passing game, though McEvoy has impressed in practice as an option-style quarterback. Andersen has hinted this fall that McEvoy could be used in some packages to utilize both quarterbacks’ strengths.
When the team held its only scrimmage for the public last Sunday, more than 5,000 people showed up to watch. That day, Stave completed 9 of 17 passes for 115 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. McEvoy, meanwhile, completed 4 of 7 passes for 40 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The details of Monday’s scrimmage were left to Andersen, who provided only some insight. The scrimmage went for roughly 60 to 70 snaps and featured three offensive turnovers, one of which resulted in a defensive touchdown, Andersen said. He also admitted both quarterbacks struggled because of penalties that put them behind the chains and third-down drops from the team’s wide receivers.
Andersen noted he felt comfortable he had a quarterback that could help Wisconsin have a viable chance to beat LSU.
"With the adjustments we continue to make within the offense, that’s the key now, is to get the best guys on the field and build the offense and the defense and the special teams around it," Andersen said. "But I expect good quarterback play, whichever one of those young men play. Same thing is expected from the D-line, O-line or wherever you want to take it. But we’ll put a good quarterback out there to give us a chance to absolutely win."
Andersen said not naming a starting quarterback was more of a tactical decision rather than a philosophical one, though he did seem to tip his hand at least a bit given that Stave appears to have been in the lead.
"I think you can probably sit down and watch practice and see the direction it’s headed," he said. "But it doesn’t need to come across the wire because we named a starting quarterback. We’ll just keep it in those lines."
The drop-dead date for finalizing Wisconsin’s two-deep is fast approaching. So, when does Andersen expect to officially make a decision with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig?
"I couldn’t say it’s absolutely going to be made tonight or tomorrow," Andersen said. "But we’ll move in the direction pretty quickly here in the next few days."
Andersen has been excellent about keeping practices open to media members through the first two weeks of fall camp. He acknowledged closing off much of Monday’s scrimmage was done to help the team gain as much of an advantage as possible for the LSU game.
"I just felt like there was the information that could possibly help us win a game," Andersen said. "We did a lot of things from a scheme standpoint that we want to definitely protect from an offensive side to the defensive side and the special teams side. I know it’s your guys’ job to cover it. So if you see it, you’re going to talk about it. It’s your job. That’s the real reason."
Kinlaw shines: Freshman running back Caleb Kinlaw saw his first live reps during Monday’s scrimmage and caught Andersen’s eye with his performance. Kinlaw carried three times for 20 yards in the short time the scrimmage was open to the media, and Andersen said he also ran well in the middle of the scrimmage. Kinlaw had been recovering from offseason surgery.
Kinlaw has done enough to challenge fellow freshman Taiwan Deal for the team’s third running back spot, according to Andersen.
"He’s a different back, as we all know," Andersen said of Kinlaw. "He’s kind of a scat back. If he can continue to move forward with that injury, if he does some of the things he did today, he’ll definitely get a look and be in the mix for the third tailback spot."
Andersen noted Deal had "gained momentum the last 48 hours" but was still adjusting to the physicality of college football.
Badgers running backs coach Thomas Brown said Saturday that Deal possessed talent but still had a long way to go mentally.
"He’s got to grow up," Brown said. "Got to mature. Got to understand what it takes at this level to be able to compete. He’s got two great examples from a tailback standpoint and really the whole room of guys who have been tested and worked their butts off and to come in every single day. He has to learn. He has that high school mode of feeling sorry for yourself at times. I’m not going to feel sorry for you. Nobody else is. He’s has to learn to push past things.
"Camp is tough. From a talent standpoint, I think he can be really good in the future, but he’s got to get over that mental hurdle for us. It’s kind of holding him back."
Injury update: Fullback Derek Watt and wide receiver Jordan Fredrick both were back in action during Monday’s scrimmage after missing time the past week with mild injuries. Andersen said many of the team’s top defensive players were held out of the scrimmage as a precaution, though they likely would have played if Wisconsin had a real game.
Among the players that sat out: linemen Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, as well as linebackers Jesse Hayes, Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter, Michael Trotter and Vince Biegel. Receivers Jazz Peavy and Rob Wheelwright also sat out.
All of those players, Andersen said, were expected to be healthy enough to play by the time the LSU game arrives.
"We gained a lot of momentum in the last 48 hours on injuries," Andersen said. "We’re going to be real close to firing on all cylinders as long as we stay healthy the rest of the way through. We’re getting them in those cold tubs, hot tubs — three or four hours of treatment today. Right now, it’s paying off."
Gillins steps up: Freshman quarterback DJ Gillins put together an impressive final drive on Monday. He led the third-team offense on an eight-play, 70-yard drive that was capped by a 6-yard touchdown from Deal. Gillins completed 2 of 2 passes for nine yards: one an 11-yard first down to freshman receiver George Rushing and the other a screen pass to freshman receiver Krenwick Sanders that went for a two-yard loss.
Gillins’ biggest play was a 39-yard scramble that set up first-and-goal from the 10, though it also very well could have been ruled a sack with defenders converging on him.
Andersen said that, in a perfect world, he’d like to redshirt Gillins to allow for another year of eligibility for him. However, the team’s effectiveness on offense could lead to him changing that decision.
"We know we have to run the football, but what is the direction of the throw game?" Andersen said. "What is the direction of the athleticism at the quarterback spot? That’s where we make that complete judgment from there. Now DJ came in today, that’s the best he’s looked. He did some nice things today. Got rid of the ball when he needed to, made a nice play with his legs. He’s got a bunch of young players surrounding him there, and he made a couple plays."