If reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are correct, redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy will be the starting quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers when their season opens in Houston. McEvoy and the incumbent redshirt junior Joel Stave have been locked into a heated quarterback battle for the past month now, but it appears that McEvoy has emerged as the winner. If it is true, head coach Gary Andersen will be taking a huge risk, but one that is right for the Badgers.
Stave just did not do enough last season to secure the starting job through the rest of his college career. He put up impressive stats, throwing over 2,400 yards while completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns. However, Stave also threw 13 interceptions and came up short in the Badgers’ biggest games. In Wisconsin’s four losses, Stave completed only 56 percent of passes and tossed five interceptions, three of them coming with a Bowl Championship Series appearance on the line against a rocky Penn State team. However, Stave’s biggest flaw is his lack of mobility, and it showed in last year’s stats, when he compiled negative four yards on the ground.
Enter McEvoy and his 4.6 second 40 yard dash. He is a pure dual threat quarterback, and Andersen has made it no secret that he has long coveted a quarterback that makes plays with both his arm and legs. At Utah State, Andersen’s offense thrived under dual threat quarterback Chuckie Keaton, and McEvoy brings a very similar skill set. A running quarterback opens up the offense in ways that were just not possible under Stave, such as employing more of the terrifying read option. A read option involving McEvoy and Melvin Gordon, along with the potential for Corey Clement to come out with a jet sweep action on the same play should make fans salivate.
Stave does have a big arm, and he did hook up with Jared Abbrederis for many long pass plays last season, but often times it was Abbrederis’ talent who actually bailed out Stave by making ridiculous catches on poorly thrown balls. However, with Abbrederis’ departure to the pros, the receiving core is a huge question mark for the Badgers this year. A quarterback like McEvoy who can run when a play breaks down or when no one is open, can really hide some of the weaknesses of a mediocre receiving group by extending plays and drives with his legs.
With so much attention being paid to the run game, the Badgers’ play action game opened up many great long pass play opportunities, but Stave failed to capitalize on many of them, and Andersen has been quoted saying that “We missed too many layups last year.” With the potential for another strong run game, the Badgers just could not risk Stave continuing to hurt the offense by missing on such plays. While McEvoy’s passing ability is undoubtedly a question mark, his junior college highlights made me rest a bit easier. He also completed 68 percent of his passes and threw for 24 touchdowns versus only five interceptions. Those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as he was facing weaker competition in junior college, but McEvoy certainly appears to be no scrub when it comes to passing.
All in all, McEvoy is the correct choice for the opening day starter against LSU. He raises the ceiling of the offense with his running ability, an attribute that Stave just does not have. Stave frequently came up short against the best competition last season, and a loss to the very formidable Tigers in week one likely eliminates the Badgers from competing in the new college football playoff. While Stave is not a terrible option, Andersen just cannot wait for him to finally come through in the clutch, and with a cupcake schedule after LSU, Andersen has to put all his eggs in one basket and go for it with McEvoy, who can make the offense much more dynamic. It’s a risky choice, but the correct one.