It’s Badgers mailbag time. This week, fans freak out about Joel Stave’s incompletions and express concern about the play of the secondary. Plus, we talk nicknames for UW players.
We’ll be taking a break from the mailbag next week since Wisconsin doesn’t play this weekend. But if you have a question, we’ll post a submission link following Wisconsin’s Nov. 2 game against Iowa.
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions this week. Away we go:
Q: Our DB play (Saturday) night scared me a bit. Are the corners (outside of Shelton) too raw, too beat up, lack skills, or all of the above? It seems like the same quality of play has been seen in the ASU, OSU, and ILL games with big plays poorly defended.
— Todd, Oakdale, MN
Q: What part of the game does the team need to be concerned with when playing other top teams? I see it as the secondary on defense.
— Steven Kane, Brookfield, WI
A: I have to agree with you, Steven. Wisconsin has been putting up enough points to win these games — 56 will beat just about anybody — but we continue to see a disturbing trend with the secondary getting beat for big plays.
During Saturday’s game against Illinois, cornerback Darius Hillary was beaten for a 53-yard completion from Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, which led to a touchdown. Hillary was later flagged for pass interference. Scheelhaase also completed a 39-yarder on cornerback Peniel Jean before halftime that led to another score.
In the second half, Scheelhaase completed a 29-yard pass on safety Dezmen Southward on a crossing route. Backup corner Jakarrie Washington gave up a 29-yard touchdown pass in mop-up duty.
It should be cause for alarm that Illinois threw for 319 yards, even if some of that came with the Illini behind big. Earlier this season, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 352 yards, and the secondary was flagged for all six of the team’s penalties.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with focus,” Andersen said Monday. “I don’t think it has anything to do with missed assignments, but it does have to do with an issue that we have, and it can’t go without being talked about and addressed because it’s happened too many times. …
“We talked about it yesterday as a defensive staff and how can we help ourselves in those situations? Are we asking too much of those kids? Are we putting them out on an island too much is basically what it comes down to. As soon as you do that, the next can of worms is, ‘OK, well, then, can they dink and dunk you down the field?’ We are young in the secondary, but that, again, it’s no excuse. We need to get better.”
Q: Why in the world is Chris Borland covering punts? The best linebacker in the country should not be risking injury on special teams. The Badgers certainly should be able to find some other player who could handle this. All of these players were standout high school players and are on a top flight Division 1 team.
— Mike, West Bend
A: This is a valid point, and given that Borland suffered a strained right hamstring while covering a punt in the first quarter against Illinois, perhaps it will be addressed by the coaching staff moving forward.
Borland is one of the best players on the field, and his presence in any scenario is a boost over anybody else Wisconsin could put out there. But his value to the team as a linebacker is far greater than his value on punt coverage.
We got a glimpse of that value against Illinois. On Illinois’ first four series — with Borland in the game — the Illini ran 12 plays and gained minus-11 yards. On the team’s next three series, with Borland out, they ran 23 plays and gained 189 yards.
Q: What are the chances Bart Houston unseats Stave next year?
— Steve, Prescott, WI
A: I think it’s going to be difficult for Houston to take over for Stave because of all the game experience Stave has gained. He’s already made 13 starts in his career — the equivalent of one full season and a bowl game — and he should have 19 career starts by the end of this season, provided he stays healthy.
Stave has continued to improve. His 212.3 yards passing per game ranks fifth in the Big Ten, and his passing efficiency ranks sixth. Though fans might not like to admit it because they believe the guy on the bench is always a better option, Stave is in the top half of Big Ten quarterbacks right now, and he should only get better.
As for Houston, Andersen said he had made up for his lost progress last season, when he couldn’t participate in practice while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
“Being down there in the scouts, he’s loving it in the scouts because we really want him to get as much as he can of the game plan because he’s part of the game and possibly has an opportunity to get in the game,” Andersen said. “When I observe him on the scout team, he does a nice job. Understands that role, works hard at it, accepts it, and is very good at it. When he gets down with the offense, he always seems to be in the middle of it.
“It’s not the easiest spot to be in, but he’s developed, I think, as a thrower. He can really throw it, which we all know. He’s working hard on becoming a better quarterback. I think coach (Andy) Ludwig is happy with his progress, and I’m sure Bart thinks he’s moving in the right direction.”
Q: Joel Stave looks so good on some throws, yet apparent easy ones he short hops or underthrows…lack of concentration or mechanics still in process?
— Todd, Oakdale, MN
Q: Is it time for the Badgers to put in a new quarterback?? Maybe someone that can throw the ball down the field and is a little more accurate?
— Steve, Dubuque, IA
Q: Still trying to figure out how Curt Phillips lost the QB job to Stave. From media reports, Stave’s ability to go deep was a weighted factor. A lot of Staves deep success has been the result of Abbrederis circus grabs or the “bomb” last week where Erickson made a catch with his face coming back for another underthrown pass. The Badgers are winning with the worst looking yet statistically sound quarterback in college football. Two or Three bad QB things against Iowa and a really good season will wind up really disappointing. Finally…the question: How long a leash does Coach Andersen have on Stave?
— Jim Graves, Albany, WI
Q: Why doesn’t Bart Houston get any reps when the Badgers are blowing out their opponents? He needs game experience if he’s to compete for the starting job next year. Stave hasn’t shown the ability to consistently hit open receivers downfield, nor throw with any accuracy on the run. Badgers seem to be limiting themselves offensively by continuing to run Stave out there.
— Steve, Sun Prairie
A: In case you couldn’t tell, Badgers fans are jumping off the Joel Stave bandwagon in droves here. It’s easy to forget Stave actually completed 76.1 percent of his passes against Illinois (16-for-21) and threw for 189 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Yes, Stave badly missed on a few throws — the most glaring of which was an underthrow of Jared Abbrederis off a play-action that should have gone for a 75-yard touchdown. He missed Abbrederis again during the game and threw wildly for tight end Jacob Pedersen twice.
But let’s be clear here: This is Joel Stave’s team right now. We’re seven games into the season — a season in which the Badgers are 5-2, on track to finish as the second-best team in the Big Ten and possibly reach a BCS bowl game. What more could you want if you’re a Badgers fan? The guy isn’t perfect, but name a college quarterback who is.
Stave has said in the past that footwork is one of his biggest areas to improve. Sometimes he doesn’t properly set his feet to make those deep throws, and that is something he’ll learn the more he plays.
While you’re lamenting Stave’s play, here are some things to keep in mind: He ranks second in the Big Ten in completion percentage (63.5 percent), third in yards per attempt (8.3) and tied for second in touchdown passes (13). He’s also third in the country in pass efficiency in the red zone among quarterbacks with at least 30 throws, behind Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion.
I think there are plenty of college football programs that would gladly insert Stave into their starting lineup today.
Q: Best nickname on the team goes to…?
— Deuce Duncan, Chicago
A: The more I think about this, the more I’m realizing there really aren’t any great nicknames for players on this year’s team. There is no “Dayne Train” or no “Iron Horse.” A lot of times, players’ nicknames are simply their initials. Outside linebacker Brendan Kelly is known simply as “BK.”
The snappiest nickname follows that same pattern, but at least it sounds good: running back Melvin Gordon as MGIII. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else is out there.
Joel Stave has been referred to as “Sunshine” because of his striking resemblance to the fictional character in “Remember the Titans.” Linebacker Ethan Armstrong is known as “Army,” which is kind of cool, and safety Leo Musso is “Moose.”
If you have a nickname you’d like to give a player, feel free to comment below. I’ll start: I vote “The Wautoma Wonder” for wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. That’s about all I’ve got for now.