McEvoy ‘disgusted’ by ‘bad game’ vs. LSU; Houston now backup QB

Bart Houston (left) is now Wisconsin's backup quarterback behind Tanner McEvoy, who remains the starter despite a poor performance against LSU.

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MADISON, Wis. — Statistics will show Tanner McEvoy put together a historically bad quarterbacking performance for Wisconsin during its season opener. In almost any way, this is a fact that cannot be disputed.

McEvoy, making the first start at quarterback in his Badgers career against LSU, completed 8 of 24 passes Saturday night for 50 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He went 1-for-7 for nine yards in the fourth quarter, and Wisconsin gained a total of 24 yards on its three possessions, letting a 17-point lead turn into a 28-24 loss. Overall, the Badgers’ final five possessions resulted in three punts and two interceptions.

For some historical context, the last time Wisconsin tallied 50 yards passing or fewer in a loss occurred back on Oct. 12, 1991, when Jay Macias and Jay Simala combined to complete 7 of 20 passes for 46 yards during a 10-6 defeat at home against Iowa. McEvoy’s passer rating of 34.16 also was the worst for a Wisconsin quarterback making his starting debut since Mike Kalasmicki’s 5.20 rating in 1977. Only two quarterbacks have had a passer rating below 34 at Wisconsin in a debut since 1951.

Those are a lot of numbers to say the same thing: It was a night to forget for McEvoy. And three days after his performance, McEvoy readily accepted the blame.

"I obviously had a bad game," he said succinctly.

The areas in which McEvoy faltered were numerous, though LSU’s front seven and defensive backs deserve their share of the credit for making life difficult. McEvoy often left the pocket early. And when he did throw, he found himself drifting off his back foot, which affected his accuracy.

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McEvoy said he was "disgusted" with his performance from the game and noted he fell back on bad habits he had worked on improving throughout fall camp.

"I was moving my feet way too much," McEvoy said. "I was just getting a little anxious, I think. It was first game jitters, I think, honestly. But it’s the first game. There’s only room to improve, so I’m really looking forward to cleaning it up for this Week 2 and getting a win and really start getting this offense going."

McEvoy and his receivers also did not appear to be in the same zip code during the game, with McEvoy occasionally missing receivers by 10 yards or more. Badgers coach Gary Andersen did everything he could to defend his quarterback afterward, noting receivers broke off routes and the offensive line did not protect as well as it should.

But Wisconsin wide receivers coach Chris Beatty insisted that his position group did not break off a single route.

"The quarterbacks and the receivers have got to be on the same page and see the same things," Beatty said. "They’ve got a hard job. The quarterback’s got the toughest job in sports. He’s got to see. We’ve got to make sure that we see it and help him see it the way he needs to see it. That’s part of the process, and that’s part of all those guys’ first game really playing."

McEvoy, again, took responsibility.

On the miscommunications with receivers, he remarked, "That’s my fault."

On the offensive line protection, he said, "I thought the offensive line did a great job. I was messing up my drops a few times. I over dropped, which is harder for the offensive line (that) doesn’t know where I’m ending up. I threw them under the bus a little bit at times, but I think they did a great job. I ran a couple times I didn’t have to."

Despite McEvoy’s uneven performance, teammates have continued to publicly back him, including Badgers running back Melvin Gordon.

"It was a rough game, but he definitely made some plays with his feet," Gordon said. "I think Tanner is better than what he showed or what his stats showed on Saturday. I have all the faith in the world in Tanner that he can make the plays that are needed and the receivers to help us win the ballgame."

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The task now for McEvoy is to quickly fix his mistakes for Saturday’s Western Illinois game because Wisconsin’s coaching staff is going all-in on him as a starter, at least for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday, backup quarterback Joel Stave — a two-year starter — said he was no longer participating in team drills while he battled what appeared to be a mental block that had hindered his ability to complete routine passes.

That means Wisconsin’s top three quarterbacks on the depth chart — McEvoy, redshirt sophomore Bart Houston and true freshman DJ Gillins — have combined to play QB in three Division I games.

Houston’s role, in particular, will change as he moves from third-stringer to backup. He acknowledged his repetitions in practice Tuesday changed as he earned more snaps with the second-team offense. If McEvoy — a mobile quarterback more apt to run — is injured, Houston would be the team’s next man in. And it is a challenge for which he is now ready.

"I’m a little more prepared every week," Houston said. "Last year, I was not a smart freshman. Didn’t prepare as well for every game, but this year football is like another 10-credit class for me. I’m watching film every night, breaking down the plays, going through the checks and everything. I’m more prepared for every single game, every single thing that the coaches could throw at me."

But Saturday, the Badgers hope, won’t be about Houston in the end.

"Right now as a quarterback room we’re focused on Tanner," Houston said, "getting him ready for Western Illinois."