MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s second and final open scrimmage of fall camp came and went Monday, and you’d have thought the most intriguing remaining position battle would have been decided. After all, how many practices does it take before a coaching staff finally picks a starting quarterback?
Apparently, at least 18. After more than two weeks of competition, and with just 10 practices remaining, senior Curt Phillips and sophomore Joel Stave continue to battle for first-team repetitions. Monday may have offered a hint of what is to come, but not enough for head coach Gary Andersen to claim either had separated himself.
“Not really,” Andersen said. “I was watching a lot of different things. We’ll look at the film and evaluate it. There’s some natural separation that’s taken place as we’ve gone through camp. It can’t only be judged on one day. There’s so many things that go into it.”
One day of statistics won’t decide the starter, but if a winner had to be declared — and what are sports without winners and losers — than Phillips walked away the victor. He unofficially completed 6 of 11 passes for 100 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Stave, meanwhile, finished the day 5 of 10 for 62 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Of course, Stave produced better numbers one week earlier in the team’s first open scrimmage, throwing for 128 yards compared to Phillips’ 68, so whatever edge Phillips may have gained is small.
Andersen has said he won’t announce a starter until someone runs out for the first play from scrimmage against UMass in the season opener, and given the way things have played out, he may come close to hiding it that long.
Following Monday’s scrimmage, Andersen noted he didn’t consider the decision of naming a starting quarterback to be any more difficult or pressure-packed than picking a left guard or a nose guard.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” he said. “It’s an important decision that we’re making, just like a lot of them are. I just think the timing of it now is becoming crucial to get the right reps for the two young men that are really going to have ones and twos to try to get ready.”
Both Phillips and Stave split time working with the first- and second-team offenses Monday. Phillips’ best drive was a two-play 60-yarder in which he found receiver Jared Abbrederis on a deep 43-yard completion and then immediately hit receiver Alex Erickson for a 17-yard score. Phillips also hit tight end Brock DeCicco on a 22-yard pass on an earlier drive. He did commit one turnover, however, fumbling on a third-down play at midfield.
Stave was unable to demonstrate his ability to throw the deep ball, which is where he has a decided advantage in the quarterback race. Stave completed two 16-yard passes on his first drive with the first-team offense against the second-team defense. Running back Melvin Gordon capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
But Stave also did not have a completion of longer than 18 yards, and he only connected on three of his final eight throws.
To make matters more confusing, Andersen allowed junior-college transfer Tanner McEvoy to work some with the first-team offense to gain a feel for playing with the starters. McEvoy struggled during the first open scrimmage, completing just 2 of 9 passes for 22 yards, and he likely will enter the season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Phillips and Stave.
McEvoy did manage to finish his second scrimmage by completing 6 of 7 passes for 58 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He was picked off on his second series when linebacker Joe Schobert made an athletic play in which he batted the ball at the line of scrimmage and scooped it up for an interception.
Later, McEvoy began back-to-back drives at the defense’s 25-yard line. He hit tight end Derek Watt for a 25-yard touchdown on the first play of one drive. On the next drive, he found Watt again for a score from four yards out.
Andersen said McEvoy could be involved in certain packages at quarterback — presumably running the option or on quarterback keepers. He also suggested McEvoy could wind up playing some wide receiver, which is a position McEvoy played in high school.
“He’s brought it up a couple times,” Andersen said. “I’m not going to sit here and say he wants to go jump into wide receiver full time. I don’t think that’s in the cards. As an athlete to get him out on the field and give him an opportunity, it will be a little tough to defend. All of a sudden you’ve got a couple quarterbacks running around and one of the them is a great athlete, so we’ll see.”
As for the starting quarterback? Good luck prying anything from Andersen just yet.
“We’ll take a long, hard look at the scrimmage and really the last week or so,” Andersen said, “and we’ll continue to evaluate and get closer to figuring out who that guy’s going to be.”
Unofficial final scrimmage stats:
Passing: Curt Phillips 6 for 11, 100 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT; Joel Stave 5-10, 62 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; Tanner McEvoy 6 for 7, 58 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; Bart Houston 6-7, 44 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; Connor Senger 1 for 1, 10 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; Thad Armstrong 1 for 1, 31 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT.
Rushing: James White 4 carries, 21 yards; Melvin Gordon 7 carries, 22 yards; Corey Clement 22 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD; Derek Watt 2 carries, 5 yards; Austin Ramesh 8 carries, 20 yards, 1 TD; Tanner McEvoy 4 carries, 8 yards; Joel Stave 2 carries, 4 yards.
Receiving: Jared Abbrederis 2 catches, 59 yards; Alex Erickson 4 catches, 41 yards, 1 TD; Sam Arneson 1 catch, 18 yards; James White 1 catch, 16 yards; Jordan Fredrick 1 catch, 4 yards; Rob Wheelwright 1 catch, 3 yards; Brock DeCicco 2 catches, 28 yards; Austin Traylor 2 catches, 7 yards; Connor Cummins 2 catches, 42 yards; Eric Steffes 1 catch, 7 yards; Brett Arnold 1 catch, 5 yards; Austin Ramesh 1 catch, 8 yards; T.J. Watt 1 catch, 9 yards; Kenzel Doe 1 catch, 15 yards, Derek Straus 1 catch, 4 yards; Troy Fumagalli 1 catch, 10 yards, Derek Watt 2 catches, 29 yards, 2 TD.
Jacobs impresses: Outside linebacker Leon Jacobs came into fall camp facing the prospect of a possible redshirt season. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound freshman had incredible athletic skills, but he had a more extensive background as a basketball player, and it remained to be seen how he would adapt to a big-time college football program’s scheme.
Turns out, pretty well.
Jacobs was one of the standouts of Monday’s scrimmage. He sacked McEvoy once and ran down running back Melvin Gordon on an 83-yard run that was ultimately called back because of a holding penalty.
Afterward, Andersen said Jacobs would likely play this season after all.
“Leon is the perfect freshman scenario,” Andersen said. “You come in, he looks great, he runs good, does a great job in the summer and he appears to be able to mentally handle the transition from high school. Then all of a sudden camp jumps on you and you’ve got all the pressures of camp. New defense. Understanding you’re running with the ones and the twos. I think he handled it well.
“The waters are calming for him and he’s able to go play and react. He’s a tremendous athlete. And it looks like right now he won’t redshirt.”
Kicking woes: Just when it seemed Kyle French might take control of field goal duties for Wisconsin, he put together a miserable day during the Badgers’ second scrimmage. French missed his first two field-goal attempts from 43 and 45 yards. Jack Russell, meanwhile, drilled both of his tries from the same distance. Each kicker made his last attempt from 30 yards.
Andersen said French’s inconsistency was a concern.
“You come out on a day like this and I tell the kids this is preseason game No. 2,” Andersen said. “So this is as close as we get to game day. It does not get any closer than that. We missed a couple and Jack came in and drilled it. So it’s definitely a battle. It’s a competition as we go through. Again, it’s not based on one day, but there has to be more put on when you’re playing real football. There has to be more put on in my opinion. So it was disappointing.”