MADISON — Despite the return of starter Joel Stave, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has made it clear that there is a two-person competition for quarterback as the Badgers opened training camp Monday.
Stave, who started all 13 games and guided the Badgers to a 9-4 record last season, is being challenged by dual threat Tanner McEvoy, who eventually started three games at safety last season after moving from quarterback to wide receiver.
The Badgers, who open the season Aug. 30 against LSU at Houston, held split-squad practices Monday with two different groups of players. Stave practiced in the morning with the bulk of the first-team offense, while McEvoy took part in the afternoon session with inexperienced receivers and a young offensive line.
“We will switch, especially at the quarterback spot. You’ll see that the offensive line that we had in the afternoon was all young guys. That’s pretty difficult against some veteran defensive players,” Andersen said. “The quarterbacks need to rotate just in fairness for them for their ability to be able to compete.”
Both quarterbacks are juniors and similar in size. Stave is listed at 6-foot-5, 220, while McEvoy is 6-6, 222. That’s where the similarity ends, however. Stave is perceived to have the stronger arm and more of a pocket passer, while McEvoy is more mobile and more of a threat to run.
And, it’s not as if Stave had a dismal 2013 season. His 336 pass attempts were a single-season school record and the 208 completions was third highest. Stave’s 22 touchdown passes were second most in school history, trailing only Russell Wilson, who led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl title. His 2,494 passing yards were the fifth-best all-time and most by a sophomore.
But, he also threw 13 interceptions and missed open receivers in several key situations, which he acknowledged in the team’s media day last week.
“You can always be more consistent,” said Stave, who also started six games as a freshman. “I’ve made very good throws and also missed throws that you just can’t miss. So that’s how the game goes. There’s going to be ups and downs. You’re not always going to be perfect. That’s always the goal, you’re going to want to strive to be perfect and just play consistently at a high level.”
McEvoy, started his career at South Carolina and then transferred to Arizona Western College, where he ran a spread offense. After losing out in the quarterback battle at Wisconsin last fall to Stave and backup Curt Phillips, McEvoy played wide receiver in the Badgers opener against Massachusetts. After a wrist injury that required surgery, McEvoy was moved to safety for the final 10 games, including three starts.
“Last year was obviously my first year,” McEvoy said on media day. “I mean it’s no excuse, but it’s something different. This year, my second year, I know the offense a little better. I had a spring under my belt. That’s really the main difference.”
The staff also is keeping an eye on Stave’s right shoulder, which he injured in the Badgers 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capitol One Bowl. Soreness in the same shoulder forced him to miss the final week of spring practice.
Andersen said he has been involved in similar quarterback situations before and admitted it’s not an exact science in making a final decision.
“I’ve been in a couple of them, really only one as a head coach,” Andersen said. “If I look at that one, I couldn’t even really tell you what I felt like separated them, other than the things that I’ve talked about. The ability to manage, the ability to move the team, the ability of the team believing in the kid behind there.”
“I don’t what the final identification or the factor is, but we’ll just keep going through it.”