Coy QBs: Despite reports, McEvoy ‘not sure’ he’s starting over Stave
Even though media reports and teammate Melvin Gordon's comments all but confirm Tanner McEvoy (right) will start over Joel Stave (left) against LSU on Saturday, neither quarterback has outright said so.
MADISON, Wis. — You can say Wisconsin’s quarterback battle is already settled, that reports have told the story, that a fake Twitter account furthered the trouble and that running back Melvin Gordon accidentally spilled the beans when speaking with reporters Monday.
Still, that didn’t make Tuesday’s media session with Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave — their first since word leaked of McEvoy’s ascension into the starting role — any less awkward for the two quarterbacks.
Here they were, surrounded by reporters, having to pretend they were clueless as to the direction of the competition. McEvoy, in particular, seemed to enjoy playing coy, opting to cede any answers to offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
"We’re not sure who’s playing upcoming this weekend," McEvoy said, drawing laughter from the assembled media. "I hope I’m in. That’s a coach Lud answer. Whatever he wants us to do. I’ve got to be ready for if my number’s called. I know if it’s not called, Joel will be ready, too. He’s been doing it for a while. He’s a great quarterback, so whatever they ask."
Despite McEvoy’s answer, when No. 14 Wisconsin opens its season Saturday night in Houston against No. 13 LSU, Stave is expected to find himself in an unfamiliar position. Not since a Sept. 5, 2012 game against Utah State has Stave been healthy enough to play and not been the starter. During that span, he won 13 of 19 starts and has thrown 455 passes.
Stave, at least, was a bit more open about the quarterback competition and acknowledged his new role on the team.
"I’m going to prepare like I did when I was a redshirt freshman and basically knew I wasn’t going to play to every year since then," Stave said. "My preparation doesn’t change."
Given that Stave has the most experience at quarterback on Wisconsin’s roster and McEvoy has yet to throw a pass in a Division I game, Stave has considerable wisdom to offer his teammate. He noted that he has tried to help McEvoy be as prepared as possible to face perhaps Wisconsin’s most difficult challenge of the season.
"Just stay confident in what you’re doing," Stave said. "Be smart in your reads and get the ball out quick. Like everyone knows when you’re practicing, they’re not going to hit you. They’re running by and tagging off and you can move in the pocket a little more freely.
"Once you get to a game against a good team, they’re not going to do that. They’re going to go ahead and put their helmet right into your ribs if they get the chance. Don’t give them that chance. Get the ball out."
McEvoy’s story certainly is unique. He began his collegiate career at South Carolina but was buried on the team’s depth chart and ultimately transferred to Arizona Western College. In his one season there, he was named the conference’s offensive player of the year after throwing for 2,301 yards with 29 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and six more scores. So when he arrived at Wisconsin, McEvoy figured to have a real opportunity to win the starting quarterback job.
But transitioning to a new playbook against more seasoned players such as Stave and then-senior Curt Phillips proved difficult. When McEvoy broke a bone in his wrist during fall camp, his attempt to play quarterback was over, and he wound up playing safety. He appeared in 10 games and made three starts, proving to be surprisingly good at the position.
McEvoy, who moved back to quarterback during spring practices, has not spent much time reflecting on his journey just yet.
"Sometimes people throw things at you," McEvoy said. "You’ve just got to change and make an adjustment. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years. There’s only so much I can handle. I’ve just got to go out there and do what I can do."
It is well documented that McEvoy’s advantage over Stave has been the ability to be a dual-threat quarterback. McEvoy said he had run the option "for a while," both as a high-school senior playing quarterback at Bergen Catholic and during his one year of junior college. That skillset is what seems to have ultimately won him the job.
Though coaches officially made their decision last Tuesday or Wednesday, Badgers coach Gary Andersen has tried to keep the starter choice close to the vest. Reports indicated McEvoy had won the job on Friday, and one day later, some media outlets used a fake Tanner McEvoy Twitter account as further confirmation.
"Taking pictures off my Instagram and stuff," McEvoy said of the account. "I don’t know who it is. They’re not saying anything too negative, but it’s supposed to be taken down soon from what I’ve been told. Hopefully that happens soon."
As for the football side of things, that is far more in McEvoy’s control. On Monday, Andersen downplayed the fact McEvoy has not played quarterback yet in a Division I game, pointing out that McEvoy has prepared to play in big games for Wisconsin at safety.
McEvoy, too, did not seem the slightest bit concerned about the possibility of opening his Badgers quarterbacking career against a team the caliber of LSU in an NFL stadium.
"I knew what I signed up for," McEvoy said. "I’ve just got to go out there and play. I’ve got to go out there and execute and do what the coaches say. I’ve been playing football all my life. I don’t think it’ll be overwhelming or anything. It’s a big crowd, but that’s fun. That’s what I signed up for. It’s a big school. That’s why I came here."