Jesse Temple's Dec. 4 Badgers mailbag
DEC 04, 2013 10:09a ET
The last Wisconsin football mailbag of the regular season has arrived, and it's the biggest one we've had all year. Thanks to everyone who submitted a question during the season. It's been a lot of fun, and I hope we can do it again in the future.
Today, we address plenty of issues: from quarterback Joel Stave's inaccuracy to the future of the offensive line to Wisconsin's offensive play-calling and head-scratching defensive issues against Penn State.
To take one of Gary Andersen's favorite phrases, away we go:
Q: It seems obvious that Stave is not progressing as we would like. He misses way too many wide-open throws. Do you get the impression that the staff is willing to have a truly open competition in the spring regardless of how many games Stave has played?
-- Justin, Fond du Lac
Q: By the looks of Joel Stave's inaccuracy in the short and long passing game against Penn State, I can easily see there being another QB battle next season between he and Bart Houston. Do you agree or disagree? To me Stave isn't the answer at QB, and Houston should already have learned the playbook by now.
-- Robert, Beloit
A: If you would have made this argument halfway through the season, I'd have said it was ridiculous. The numbers still show that Joel Stave's passing yards per game (201.2) rank fifth in the Big Ten, and he is seventh in passing efficiency. But for whatever reason, Stave's consistency really took a dive as the season progressed.
We all know about the misconnection issues with Jared Abbrederis, but he seemingly couldn't find anybody for stretches with passes that sailed too high or aimed throws that hit the ground. His overall statistics are actually pretty good, and if fans never had the privilege of watching Russell Wilson, they would think Stave was one of the best quarterbacks to come through Wisconsin. Stave has completed 61.6 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,414 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Only two quarterbacks have ever thrown for more touchdowns at Wisconsin in a single season: Wilson (33 in 2011) and John Stocco (21 in 2005). That's pretty good company.
Now, to get to your questions: Despite all of these numbers, I do believe Bart Houston will challenge Stave for that starting quarterback job. Stave will have 19 starts under his belt, including 13 under the new coaching staff, so he'll obviously have a leg up. But if Houston is as good as we've heard about, then we should see his maturation during spring practices. He really wasn't given a fair opportunity this fall because the coaches wanted to give Tanner McEvoy every chance to compete for the quarterback job, and Curt Phillips and Stave already were in the mix, too.
But Phillips will be gone in the spring, and McEvoy has played so well at safety that perhaps he'll just stay there. That would leave two quarterbacks -- Houston and Stave. It's the opportunity Houston has been waiting for, and he'll have a real chance to take advantage of it if he can deliver accurate passes and make smart decisions.
Q: In the record books beside Jared Abbrederis' name there should be a huge asterisk. It should say, "Last two years was thrown to by Joel Stave." How many touchdowns and yards has this incredibly inept quarterback cost Abby? You Stave apologists are running out of material for this wannabe. Penn State had a feast on our defense all day, but we left at least three touchdowns that any member of this team could have thrown. Maybe more, and Abbrederis was the poor slub that had to just bite the bullet and return back to the huddle like it was a rare thing. Andersen has lots to deal with right now, but to think Stave wasn't going to have a game like this when we most need him is puzzling at best.
-- Bill Gailbreath, Madison
A: Well, I'm not going to drop an anvil on Joel Stave because, as I mentioned above, his statistics are a lot better than some people seem to think. There is obviously no question that Stave has missed Abbrederis on numerous occasions. During the Penn State game, for example, he overthrew Abbrederis three times -- twice on long throws in Penn State territory early in the game and another with Wisconsin trailing 24-14, which resulted in an interception.
However, Abbrederis is having the best season of his college career, and you know who's thrown the ball to him on every play? Stave. Sure, you can wonder what Abbrederis' numbers would have looked like if more balls were on target. But as it stands, Abbrederis has 73 catches for 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns. The number of catches and yards are career highs, and Stave hasn't really had a second wide receiver to work with all season. Even during a game in which Stave missed Abbrederis three times, Abbrederis still caught a career-high 12 passes for 135 yards against Penn State. He is now just the fourth Wisconsin player to record a 1,000-yard season.
All in all, it could be better. But I think that's pretty good.
Q: I was at the game Saturday, and aside from the defense giving up big pass plays all day, it was one of the worst performances of the year from Joel Stave. He was wildly inaccurate. What do you think is the reason behind his inaccuracy? Is it throwing mechanics? Concentration? Pressure? All of the above?
-- Tim Hafeman, Belmont, WI
A: I think a few factors are at play here. First of all, Stave didn't always have a ton of time to sit there in the pocket and make quality throws. He was sacked three times, and things were so bad on the offensive line that left tackle Tyler Marz was benched late in the game.
Aside from that, Stave has talked often this season about his footwork. His throwing mechanics overall seem fine, but when he faces pressure, he has a difficult time setting his feet for a proper throw. I'm not sure it's concentration as much as it is the other factors. But it's been difficult to watch some of his incomplete passes because receivers are so open at times. If there is one area Stave has to clean up, that would be it. And he has two more seasons to figure it out unless coaches decide to pull the plug on his starting days.
Q: Stave is not a big time or even a game managing QB. Why can't Wisconsin ever recruit a top QB? You would think with the running attack they have, QBs would be drooling over going there.
-- Bill, Depere, WI
A: To say Wisconsin can't ever recruit a top quarterback isn't exactly accurate. Yes, Joel Stave was a walk-on when he arrived at Wisconsin, and without the stars beside his name, I suppose that means he wasn't "big time" in the sense of national hype. But Stave's 2,414 passing yards this season rank sixth in Wisconsin history, and he'll probably crack the top four after the bowl game.
I would argue Bart Houston is a "top QB." Houston was a four-star quarterback who turned down scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, UCLA and Washington. He's the only four-star quarterback in the bunch over the last decade, and he very well could wind up the starter in the coming years.
If you want to look ahead, Wisconsin has two pretty good quarterbacks coming into the program, too. The Badgers landed three-star quarterback D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla.) for the Class of 2014 and three-star quarterback Austin Kafentzis (Sandy, Utah) for the Class of 2015. Gillins had offers from Arizona, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and West Virginia, among others.
Q: The offensive line was whipped too many times. Who will make it better next year?
-- Steve Smith, Milwaukee
A: Sophomore left tackle Tyler Marz was benched in the fourth quarter against Penn State, and Ryan Groy moved over from his spot at left guard. That's obviously never a good sign, but Marz was blown up for two sacks, and sometimes you've got to make adjustments on the fly.
Overall, I will say the offensive line has been pretty good this season. Groy was just named first-team all-Big Ten by the coaches and a second-team selection by the media. Right tackle Rob Havenstein was a second-team pick by the coaches and an honorable mention selection by the media. Plus, Wisconsin set a school record for rushing yards in a season (3,396) in the Penn State game, surpassing the 12-game mark set during the Ron Dayne era in 1999. You don't get there without a stellar offensive line.
I actually think the line will be just fine next season. Groy, a redshirt senior, is the only starter who won't be there in 2014. Marz has two years left, and he can use this Penn State game as motivation that he has more to work on. Dallas Lewallen, a junior, could easily slide over to left guard and fill in for Groy. Lewallen was playing guard before he switched to center when Dan Voltz got injured during fall camp.
That would keep Voltz at center. Voltz will be a redshirt sophomore next season and is extremely intelligent. He could wind up being the next Travis Frederick -- a guy who keeps developing and winds up in the NFL for years. Also, the right side of the line should be great. Kyle Costigan will be back for his senior season at right guard, and Havenstein also will be a senior at right tackle.
Assuming the starters remain the same for Wisconsin's bowl game, you'll be looking at an offensive line next season that will have appeared in 112 games and started 71 games. I'd say that's a great place to start for a Badgers team that will once again rely on the running game to set up the pass.
Q: Why did the Badgers not run the ball when they had 3rd down on the two occasions at the end of the third quarter?
-- Ken Auxier, Portage, WI
A: There was no doubt some curious play-calling, and I don't have an answer as to why Wisconsin didn't run. The only thing I can think of is that coaches figured Penn State would sell out on the run, and that would leave players open in the passing game. Of course, when you're Wisconsin and you pride yourself on running the ball down an opponent's throat, there's no sense getting too cute.
I think part of the problem was Wisconsin's inability to establish itself on the ground from the start of the game. That may have caused some doubt in the minds of coaches. Wisconsin ran the ball 30 times for 120 yards, and that total represented the second-lowest yardage output of the season behind the Badgers' 104-yard effort against Ohio State.
Q: Jesse, where has the jet sweep been the past two weeks (and where was it before that with Gordon running it)? I can't imagine another team in the country abandoning their best offensive play, especially given that teams are loading the middle, and the jet sweep is one of the best plays to get to the outside quickly.
-- Pete, Houston TX
A: I'm not sure I can adequately answer this question since I'm not the offensive coordinator. It looks like Wisconsin ran only one jet sweep against Penn State, and it came with Gordon in the fourth quarter. There have been times when Corey Clement has entered the game and been used as a jet sweet decoy, only for Wisconsin to hand the ball off and run straight up the middle.
It certainly is curious that Wisconsin has gotten away from one of its best plays, especially considering very few teams have found a way to stop it. Maybe we'll see Wisconsin return to its old ways in the bowl game. Who knows?
Q: The Badgers have the best running back tandem in the country, they kept it close most of the game and didn't trail by a lot of points until the fourth quarter, and yet they ended up passing it twice as much as they ran it. It's not like Penn State was stopping White and Gordon, either. They both had decent averages. Why change your entire offensive identity and what had been working all season in the final game against an inferior opponent?
-- Steven Joseph, Milwaukee, WI
A: I went back and looked at the numbers from the Penn State game, and they really became skewed during the fourth quarter. Before the fourth quarter, Wisconsin actually ran the ball 27 times and passed 23 times. That's what you would call balance.
But Wisconsin fell behind 31-14 in the fourth quarter, and there really isn't time to put together 15-play drives with 12 runs on each of those drives. That would take too much time off the clock. You've got to throw the ball and try to cut into the deficit quickly.
In the fourth quarter, Stave passed the ball 30 times and completed 16 of them. He threw for 187 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions -- the last one coming on that Hail Mary attempt in the endzone. Wisconsin ran the ball three times in the fourth quarter. Melvin Gordon carried once for 11 yards, and James White ran twice for seven yards.
You can get upset about the disparity if you want to, but passing the ball helped Wisconsin trim a 17-point deficit to a 7-point deficit and give the Badgers a chance to tie the game on the final possession. Gordon and White averaged 5.6 yards per carry against Penn State. That's a nice average, obviously. But six yards at a time isn't the best way to come back in a three-possession game.
Q: Penn State scored once because we had 10 guys on the field and another time we had nine, but McEvoy made an amazing play. How do those kinds of mistakes happen on such a senior-laden defense?
-- Mitch Clydeburg, Madison, WI
A: That will go down as one of the worst defensive drives you'll ever see on a college football field. You also forgot to mention the illegal substitution penalty that took place on the same drive because Wisconsin had 12 men out there. I'll just let Gary Andersen answer this question since he was asked about it after Saturday's game.
"They changed the pace," Andersen said. "Honest, that was very unusual for them in that personnel group. That they were changing the pace was very unusual. Something we had not seen. Didn’t handle it well. There is no excuse why we should've been and could've been on the field or in a position to be on the field.
"We weren’t and it starts with the coaches. That starts with me. That’s not the players' fault. We've got nine guys out there in that spot. Coaches have to be better communicating faster. It's got to get from the box down to coach (Dave) Aranda so he has a chance to make a call."
Q: Any word on potential transfers? Seems like there are always a few when a new coach comes in and shakes things up.
-- Phillip L., Milwaukee, WI
A: I have no idea about potential transfers. Those things usually come out of nowhere once the season ends. Most teams either just finished or are preparing for a bowl game. But I wouldn't be surprised if we do see some new names next season.
On a related topic, Wisconsin's coaches have done a great job of landing recruits that seemingly came from nowhere. The Badgers flipped three recruits once committed to other schools in the last week alone: T.J. Edwards, Dareian Watkins and Micah Kapoi. Edwards, a linebacker, had been committed to Western Michigan. Watkins is a four-star wide receiver that had previously committed to Northwestern. But once he took an unofficial visit to Wisconsin, Northwestern dropped the offer, and he picked the Badgers. Kapoi, an offensive lineman, flipped from Hawaii to Wisconsin.
You might not hear about those names for a couple of years, but Andersen and his staff are doing work to put together a pretty outstanding recruiting class.
Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter