Brazzoni: Saturday night Stave is one Badgers need going forward

first_imgWith just over three minutes left in the first half of the Wisconsin football team’s primetime matchup with No. 3 Alabama, the Badgers were facing a second down and 17 as they attempted to rebound from a 10-yard holding penalty that set them back.Fifth-year senior quarterback Joel Stave dropped back to pass and released a ball that soared just over the reach of a Crimson Tide defender and squarely into the hands of senior receiver Alex Erickson. At first glance, it looked like the throw was among the most technically impressive Stave had ever made in his four years at UW. But after the replay, it was clear it was the very best.The replay from the backfield point of view revealed Stave began his throwing motion before Erickson had even made his move towards the sideline — the type of read most Badgers’ fans never thought their quarterback would be able to make.But this throw was just one example from Saturday night that showed Stave — who finished the game completing 26 passes on 39 attempts for 228 and two touchdowns — is now more poised and under control in the pocket than he has ever been in his time at UW.Now, it’s easy to overreact after week one of the regular season, but given the circumstances Stave and the passing attack faced, this is not an overreaction.Every Wisconsin quarterback for the past decade and beyond has had a dynamic backfield on their side to serve as effective runners and set up play action passes.Saturday night, that backfield was entirely non-existent.Junior tailback and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Corey Clement ran for just 16 yards on eight carries and reportedly suffered from a groin injury. His two backups, Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal, combined for just 23 yards on nine carries.The Badgers’ leading rusher Saturday night — Erickson, who gained all 25 of his rushing yards on one play.Alabama has a front seven on defense that is likely the best in all of college football, and they had no problem stopping Wisconsin’s rushing attack and putting the game entirely into Stave’s hands.This is what makes Stave’s performance so impressive and is why fans should have faith in the starting quarterback restored for the time being. He didn’t have the luxury of Clement leading the offense or the benefits of effecting play action passes.The Alabama defense knew a pass was coming, especially when they opened up a big lead on UW, and even if Wisconsin decided to run the ball, the Tide knew they had the personnel to stop it.And even though Alabama proved to be too much for the Badgers and they came up well short of the victory, Stave looked comfortable and consistently made smart throw after smart throw. His lone interception came with just a minute left in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach and the team desperate to make something happen offensively.Stave has had a history of forcing throws, not putting his receivers in good positions to catch the football and ultimately leaving the Badger offensive attack one-dimensional.But with the team’s seemingly toughest task of the regular season out of the way, Stave is now in a good position to shake the old habits, carry on with the new, good habits against weaker opponents and balance out Wisconsin’s new offensive attack under head coach and offensive guru Paul Chryst.Some old habits still linger, as Stave still shows signs of having tunnel vision and deciding who he is going to throw to before the ball is even snapped. But Stave doesn’t have to be perfect under center to better the offense either.He simply needs to be efficient and effective enough to keep the offensive attack less predictable and the opposing defense on their toes. And that all starts with limiting turnovers, as the quarterback is coming off a season where he threw just nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions, leaving the passing game essentially useless.Saturday night, Stave found the most success on short screen passes to the running backs or slant passes in the middle of the field. A lot of his passes went for gains of just six or seven yards, but that is OK because he didn’t put himself at risk of throwing those costly interceptions. He didn’t force himself to make the biggest throw. Instead, he executed the smartest throw.Stave needs to remain competent and take care of the football. Only then will this Wisconsin offense be productive and surpass the low expectations it had coming into the 2015 season.last_img