MADISON, Wis. — Melvin Gordon was doing his best to be diplomatic about all the quarterback drama that has surrounded Wisconsin’s football program through fall camp. He began by stressing his confidence in both Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave and opining the difficulties this coaching staff faced by picking one man over the other.
And then Gordon, the Badgers’ standout running back, let slip perhaps the worst kept secret in Madison: McEvoy indeed will be Wisconsin’s starter for its season opener against LSU on Saturday.
"Even though Tanner was named the starter, I think Joel will continue to work and wait for his chance," Gordon said Monday.
Reports, of course, have already indicated McEvoy has won the job over Stave, who is 13-6 in 19 career starts. But Gordon’s comments are notable because Badgers coach Gary Andersen has declined to publicly declare the starter — a stance he continued during a Monday morning radio interview and later at his weekly Monday news conference.
Andersen, in fact, saved his biggest complaint about the quarterback situation for a fake McEvoy Twitter account that hinted at him winning the starting role, which created another headache for the head coach. McEvoy’s fake Twitter posted this on Saturday: "So thankful for this opportunity! I appreciate all the love from our fans and it’s time to get to work!"
It was retweeted 71 times and favorited 107 times, and Andersen was unhappy that some legitimate media outlets used the tweet as confirmation.
"People want to believe whatever they want to believe," Andersen said. "Just another social media debacle, in my opinion. It’s not Tanner’s Twitter for a lot of people that made phone calls and text messages that I got.
"We’ve got two quarterbacks who I think are going to help this football team throughout the year, and whoever takes the first snap, it doesn’t necessarily say he’s going to be the guy for the whole season. We’ve got two kids that want to compete and will continue to compete. That’s where we’re going to stay with it."
McEvoy’s presumed ascension into the starting role comes as a mild surprise based on the first two weeks of fall camp, which was largely open to the media. Stave appeared to possess the most consistency in the passing game and performed well in the team’s first open scrimmage. But McEvoy’s biggest strength has always been his ability to create plays with his legs and utilize the option — something the coaching staff has coveted since it arrived nearly two years ago.
McEvoy rushed for 414 yards and six touchdowns while at Arizona Western College. Stave, a pocket passer, has totaled minus-73 yards in his two seasons at Wisconsin.
Andersen did say he had no reservations about the fact McEvoy has yet to throw a pass in a Division I game. Last year, McEvoy quickly fell behind in the quarterback race during his first fall camp and ultimately played 10 games at safety with three starts.
"The one thing I would say is he has played in big-time games," Andersen said. "He’s been a starting free safety, which is the quarterback of our defense. He has a lot of alignment issues — it’s very technical back there. There’s a ton of communication that has to take place. So he’s been in that moment. He’s prepared to play in Big Ten games. He’s prepared to play in a bowl game, which is great for him.
"Obviously, we feel like he’s thrown the ball much better to even be in the QB race. He would have had to be solid and consistent throwing the football. But the biggest thing for Tanner is the growth within the offense. This is an offense where there’s a lot of checks and a lot of verbiage, and it’s a pro-style offense. A smart kid has to get back there and understand the offense to be able to get it moving in the right direction."
Andersen also acknowledged the coaching staff didn’t make its decision on a starting quarterback until this past Tuesday or Wednesday, following the team’s second scrimmage on Monday — much of which was closed to the media. Andersen noted offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig informed the quarterback room.
"I think it’s important to make sure the kids understand exactly where they sit, the direction that we’re moving forward as a staff," Andersen said. "Once that took place, coach Ludwig handled that. Like I’ve said many times, I don’t get involved in that. I don’t deem that as my job just because it’s the quarterback position.
"It wasn’t an announcement to the team. Nothing like that."
An announcement, certainly, was not needed for players to recognize which quarterback has been earning the most snaps with the first-team offense.
Gordon, for one, likes what he sees — even if he wasn’t supposed to admit it.
"Tanner definitely got a lot better," Gordon said. "I think he’s got a good grasp on it now. I’m excited. This is his first collegiate start as a quarterback. I’m excited to see what he does."