Wisconsin has questions to answer at QB

When quarterback Curt Phillips took the snaps in January’s Rose

Bowl, Wisconsin became the first team to play in three consecutive

BCS bowl games using three different starting quarterbacks. It’s a

sign that the Badgers were used to having success despite constant

change.

It’s a theory that will be tested again this season. Not only

does Wisconsin have a brand new head coach, offensive coordinator

and six new assistant coaches, the Badgers have a bunch of

quarterbacks vying to start the season opener on Aug. 31.

Wisconsin was one of nine schools to start at least three

different quarterbacks in 2012 – Danny O’Brien, Joel Stave and

Phillips – and was the only school of the group that finished with

a winning record. But after back-to-back seasons of at least 10

victories, the Badgers’ 8-6 season was a far cry from success.

”It came out time and time again that 8-6, they don’t feel like

that’s a tremendous year for them,” coach Gary Andersen said.

”They feel like they’re a dominant power in college football,

which I believe they should feel that way.”

It starts with consistency under center, something Andersen and

offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig are still sorting out after three

weeks of spring practices.

Despite listing seven quarterbacks on its official spring

roster, the Wisconsin has given seniors O’Brien and Phillips,

sophomore Stave and redshirt freshman Bart Houston – a highly

touted prep quarterback out of the San Francisco area – most of the

repetitions.

Andersen hinted that the coaching staff will give certain

quarterbacks more repetitions leading up to April 20 spring game,

but a starter won’t be named until the fall, after sophomore

quarterback Tanner McEvoy has enrolled and can compete for the

job.

”We’re going to look at all the quarterbacks,” Andersen said.

”We’re going to look real hard at the youth at the quarterback

position because it’s important. They need the opportunity to see

how far they’ve come.”

Although Wisconsin lost just 12 turnovers last season, tying for

the fourth-fewest nationally, the Badgers threw for only 156.93

yards per game – 111th out of 120 FBS teams last season.

Stave started six games, including the first five conference

games. He recorded a season-high pass efficiency rating of 208.8,

going 9-of-11 for 127 yards and one touchdown against Michigan

State, before breaking his left collarbone early in the second

half.

”We were starting to get some third downs, keep the chains

moving and that’s really when I thought we could get things rolling

a little bit,” Stave said. ”It’s disappointing that’s when

everything went down.”

Stave was cleared for the Rose Bowl, but Phillips was given his

fourth consecutive start after leading Wisconsin to a 70-31 victory

over Nebraska in the conference championship game. Stave played

only two plays in the game, one of which was a dropped touchdown

pass by Jared Abbrederis, and spent the rest of the game on the

sidelines.

”The fact that I was able to get in there and play, make a

throw and to be on the field again was something really special for

me, especially being the Rose Bowl,” Stave said. ”That being

said, as a competitor, you want to be in there as many plays as you

can. I would have obviously liked to be in there a lot more.”

O’Brien was named the starting quarterback before the season,

but was benched in favor of Stave at halftime in the team’s third

game. He made cameo appearances in the fourth quarter at Nebraska

and in the second half against the Spartans after Stave was hurt,

but struggled to adjust after transferring from Maryland, where he

was a freshman All-American in 2010.

”It was really tough, but I am grateful for it,” O’Brien said.

”I learned a lot. It was really the first time I have been benched

my entire life in any sport . in really any venue of anything. It

was really humbling. I think I have learned a lot from it. I am a

lot tougher mentally than I think I have been ever.”

While he has stated publicly that he will not stray far from

Wisconsin’s well-known running game, Andersen has the desire to add

a zone-read and pistol formations to the quarterback’s arsenal in

order to open more things offensively.

Although Wisconsin has barely started installing its offense,

the new coaching staff has been embraced by a quarterback room

looking for consistency.

”In the meetings (Ludwig) is super detailed and there is not a

wasted minute in our meetings,” Stave said. ”We are talking

football, we are talking strategy, whatever we need to the whole

time. We really get a lot done, a lot accomplished, and I feel

really comfortable with the plays we have in. I think he’s done a

really good job.”