MADISON, Wis. — Separation is beginning to emerge in the Wisconsin quarterback battle as spring practices stretch past the halfway point. Curt Phillips and Joel Stave, the two leading candidates for the job, continue to share first-team offense repetitions. But Saturday, at least, was Stave’s day to shine.
Stave threw two impressive touchdown passes during the scrimmage portion of Saturday’s practice, which was open in its entirety to the public. He hit receiver Jared Abbrederis in stride for a 60-yard play-action touchdown pass down the middle of the field. On the final drive of practice, with Wisconsin working on red zone scenarios, Stave found receiver Jordan Fredrick open for a 20-yard touchdown in the front left corner of the end zone. The play sent members of Wisconsin’s offense into an ecstatic moshpit of sorts and ended practice on a high note for the offense.
Afterward, Badgers coach Gary Andersen praised Stave’s play by saying he had better command of the offense.
“Poise in the pocket was better today, especially out of Joel,” Andersen said. “I think he took some time, got the ball out of there. On Wednesday we were a little bit panicked in there and took some sacks where we had to get the ball out. When you’re playing against an aggressive defense, you’ve got to get the ball out quick, max protect and take your shots. I thought today the offense did a better job of that, the quarterbacks did a better job of throwing and the wide receivers made some plays, which was great to see.”
Stave played in four of the eight scrimmage drives that took place Saturday, and he was the only quarterback to throw a touchdown pass. He led the Badgers to three touchdown drives and a field goal. Kenzel Doe scored on a 31-yard reverse run around the left side, while kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell each converted a 31-yard field goal on the other drive.
Phillips, meanwhile, played in two drives and led the Badgers to a short field goal and a touchdown. Running back James White scored from one yard out on the touchdown drive.
Bart Houston took the other two drives and failed to lead the Badgers to points. Danny O’Brien did not participate in the scrimmage portion of practice.
Stave also showed off his legs when he faked a handoff and ran down the sideline for a first down out of a designed play call. Both Stave and Phillips will have to contend with junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy, who won’t begin practicing with the team until fall camp. McEvoy provides more of a running threat, which is an aspect Andersen wants to utilize in the Badgers’ new offense.
Stave appeared in eight games last season with six starts, and his big arm provided the Badgers with a deep passing threat that was otherwise nonexistent. He completed 70 of 119 passes (58.8 percent) for 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. Phillips took over for Stave after he sustained a broken collarbone Oct. 27 against Michigan State.
Gilbert done: Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert, who had a productive junior season, announced Friday he would not play next season because of multiple injuries and surgeries on his foot. Gilbert started 13 of 14 games last season and contributed 42 tackles — which led all linemen — including 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Gilbert had surgery only three weeks earlier to repair a ligament in his foot, but now his career at Wisconsin is over. Still, Andersen hinted at the possibility Gilbert could make a push to play in the NFL if he recovered by next season.
“David will still be part of this,” Andersen said Saturday. “He’ll remain on that senior wall we have in our office for the whole season. It’s tough. He would have loved to have played his senior year. If I’m betting on David, I would say his days of playing football are not over. It’s going to be fun to spend some time with him and watch him get his degree and move along in life and see what happens.”
Spring game format: Wisconsin’s offensive line has been plagued by injuries this spring, and as a result, Andersen said it would affect the format of the Badgers’ spring game. With only seven or eight healthy linemen, he admitted it would be impossible to play a full game.
“We’ll have a good scrimmage and we’ll get after it,” Andersen said. “It’ll be fairly short. We’ll be on and off quick, which is good for spring games. That’s kind of what everybody wants when you’re in that last 15th practice. We’ll still use it as a work day. It will not be a traditional football spring game, much like you saw today and the next scrimmage we’re going to have. Not a controlled scrimmage. It will be a full-fledged scrimmage, but situational if you will.”
Andersen said offensive line numbers are so low that he was forced to cancel the final series of scrimmage plays on Saturday for fear the players would become over-repped.
Wisconsin’s spring game is set for Saturday, April 20 at 4 p.m. and will be televised by Big Ten Network.