Gary Andersen: Both Wisconsin QBs will play vs. Illinois

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Thursday of Badgers quarterbacks Joel Stave (right) and Tanner McEvoy: "We're going into it thinking they're both going to play" vs Illinois.

Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s quarterback situation likely is settled — at least for this week. But that doesn’t mean Badgers coach Gary Andersen is willing to divulge much of anything about how Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy will be used.

Following Thursday’s practice, Andersen declined to address an earlier report that suggested Stave would be the team’s starter. Instead, he said only that each quarterback would take snaps when Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) plays host to Illinois (3-3, 0-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Camp Randall Stadium.

"We’re going into it thinking they’re both going to play," Andersen said. "You might as well flip a coin and call heads or tails to see who’s going to take the first snap. Just because one person takes the first snap does not mean, ‘Oh, they’re ahead now.’ Let’s not all of a sudden make this a bigger creature than it is, if that’s possible."

Andersen was peppered with questions about the status of his quarterbacks Thursday — nine of his 17 questions focused on the signal callers during a nine-minute media session. But the reason for the deluge of queries is because neither has established an upper hand at this stage of the season.

McEvoy started the first five games but was pulled late in the first half of an eventual 20-14 loss at Northwestern last Saturday — a day in which he completed 4 of 10 passes for 24 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He has completed only 47 percent of his passes against FBS competition with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Stave, a two-year starter, threw one touchdown and three picks against the Wildcats in the second half. But he showed enough in the passing game to likely earn a start against Illinois.

"We’ll go into this game with the bottom line being the best opportunity we believe for us to be able to win," Andersen said. "And I think both those quarterbacks have had enough opportunities to be in a spot and to be able to play.

"Joel has obviously been limited to one game this season. But they’ve both been in the moment. They’ve both been in those situations. So if we have a young man that is rolling through the game at a high success level, we could very easily stick with that."

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Even without outright saying it, Andersen seemed to hint Wisconsin was headed in Stave’s direction and that McEvoy would be utilized more in running scenarios by offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

"Packages for certain situations will still be available to us," Andersen said. "Much like you would say, you get a call sheet and it’s second-and-4 and it’s a controlled down for Andy. He has the power play, he has the zone play, he has the bash, he has the bob, he has some play action. There’s an opportunity to have Tanner in there, it opens up two or three different runs. So you may see him in those settings, in certain situations."

Andersen also was asked whether third-string quarterback Bart Houston, who many fans have been clamoring to see, would play if Stave and McEvoy struggled. This season, Wisconsin’s passing offense ranks No. 114 out of 125 qualifying FBS teams (149.8 yards per game).

"We have to find a quarterback that can function and run our football team the best we can be," Andersen said. "I’m not going to rule out anything at this point. But I would say this: I don’t look at last week’s film and sit back and say, ‘Wow, those quarterbacks cost us that football game.’ In no way, shape or form do I believe that from the play of Tanner or from the play of Joel.

"Do they want to play better? Sure they do. But there’s a lot of things that go into an offense being effective. So that’s when I say again we need to find a quarterback that’ll manage the game and kind of get the offense moving consistently in the right direction."

Earlier in the week, Andersen suggested both quarterbacks could be on the field at the same time, with McEvoy serving as a wide receiver. Andersen indicated that option was not on the table for the Illinois game, but it could be later this season.

When the session reached its conclusion, Andersen was asked if he was tried of all the quarterback questions that have percolated this week.

"Yeah," he said. "I’m tired of a lot of things. Such is life, right?"

Only a strong performance by Stave or McEvoy, however, will keep more questions at bay.

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