MADISON — The verdict is in as to which quarterback will start Wisconsin’s next football game on Saturday. Problem is, Badgers coach Bret Bielema isn’t saying who will take the snaps.
“They already know,” Bielema said during his weekly Monday press conference. “They know what’s going on. You won’t talk to them, but they know.”
Bielema’s comment likely means neither of the two quarterbacks — Danny O’Brien or Joel Stave — will be made available to the media this week, leaving everybody to speculate as to which player will start.
Both O’Brien and Stave are listed as co-starters on the first-team depth chart, released Monday.
“It’s not really a competition,” Bielema said. “I think we have a plan that we’ll move forward with as coaches. It isn’t a thing that we’re sitting and wasting time on.”
O’Brien has started the first three games of the season but was pulled at halftime of Saturday’s game with Wisconsin trailing Utah State 14-3. He completed 5 of 10 passes for 63 yards and lost his second fumble in as many games. He also had an interception nullified by a roughing-the-passer call.
“Danny, I told him on Sunday the No. 1 reason he got the job to begin with was because of the way he took care of the football,” Bielema said. “Where we’re going to be on this coming Saturday will really be how we handle the week and make sure we put the right guy in there.”
Stave, a redshirt freshman, played for the first time in his college career during the second half. He completed 2 of 6 passes for 15 yards and handed the ball off 20 times. The most important development to take place with him in the game was Wisconsin coming back to beat Utah State 16-14.
“We didn’t ask him to do too much,” Badgers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said Sunday. “Obviously that’s not the perfect way to have your first playing time. You try your best to do what you can. I thought he had composure. I thought he was under control. I thought he was prepared. I thought he managed the game well for what we asked him to do.”
Stave said he overcame his nerves quickly and believed he executed the gameplan given to him by Bielema, even if it didn’t call for him to throw much.
“As a quarterback you always want to throw it,” Stave said after Saturday’s game. “I would have liked to chuck it down the field a couple times. That’s not my call. I think the play calling was very smart there at the end.”
Whether Stave did enough to earn consideration for the starting job remains to be seen, but his ability to follow directions clearly appealed to Bielema.
“Joel might have the best arm out of all of them,” Bielema said. “Just strength-wise, ability to throw the football. He’s got great composure. The one thing you can count on with Joel is what you call and what you expect to see on a play and the reaction you would have to get from a quarterback, pre-snap reads, reads within a play, Joel’s pretty educated.
“He’s only got one half under his belt as a quarterback out on the field, so that’s the part that’s the unknown.”
Purely from a speculative standpoint, O’Brien seems most likely to start Saturday’s home game against Texas-El Paso. He entered the season with 17 starts from his days as Maryland’s quarterback, and his numbers at Wisconsin haven’t been terrible, save for one interception and two lost fumbles.
“It’s easy to say it was a quick hook, but I’ve got faith in whatever they do as a coaching staff,” O’Brien said Saturday. “I’m glad we got the win because it’s a team game, but obviously I’m disappointed.”
This season, O’Brien has completed 44 of 71 passes (61.9 percent) for 454 yards with three touchdowns and one pick. And not all of the offensive struggles can be heaped on his shoulders.
Wisconsin is tied for 113th out of 120 FBS teams in scoring offense at 16.3 points per game, but the offensive line and wide receivers have not provided much support. The Badgers’ top receiver, Jared Abbrederis, has missed the past six quarters after suffering a mild concussion against Oregon State. The only wide receivers to record a catch against Utah State were freshmen Reggie Love and Jordan Fredrick, each of whom caught one pass.
“There were a lot of plays on Saturday where receivers were in situations that those would be Abby’s throws,” Bielema said. “Obviously we didn’t capitalize. We didn’t catch them.”
Bielema acknowledged that opposing defenses were stacking the box, particularly with running back Montee Ball, last year’s Heisman Trophy finalist, in the backfield.
“I think they’re making us play left handed,” Bielema said. “There’s no doubt they’re going to do whatever they have to do to stop to run. We have to be able to throw the football and be able to execute some things.”
Bielema believes he has found the right quarterback to accomplish those goals. He just won’t tell anybody on the outside about his plan.