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A Decade in Wisconsin Badgers Recruiting: Top 5 Quarterbacks

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Taken from our move from MadTown Badgers:

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and few understand the importance of player fit to program than the Wisconsin Badgers. How else do you explain Wisconsin ranking so low on the recruiting services year-in and year-out and continuously being a conference title contender?

So, over the next few weeks we’re going to look back over the last decade some of the biggest hits on the recruiting trail for the Badgers.

Why not start it out with the position everyone looks at first on the recruiting trail — quarterback. At UW that hasn’t always meant landing the big, flashy names, but in some cases it has meant grabbing some of the best potential-laden prospects in the country and letting them shine with some quality coaching.

Having a decade of quarterbacks to look through, who stood out of the crowd on the recruiting trail and in their careers?

*all recruiting stats from 247Sports composite rankings

5. Curt Phillips (2008)

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 01: Quarterback Curt Phillips #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers throws the ball in the first half against the Stanford Cardinal in the 99th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio on January 1, 2013 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 367 nationally, No. 14 Pro-Style QB, No. 6 in Tennessee

Career QB Stats: 60-107 (56.1%), 642 yards, 5 touchdowns 5 interceptions

Just how bad has Wisconsin’s recruiting been at the quarterback position in the past decade? Bad enough that a part-time starter with not much to show for time at UW lands on this list. Phillips came in to the program as the second-highest rated member of the 2008 class, but never really took control of the starting quarterback position.

Some of that was due to guys like Scott Tolzien being ahead of him for the majority of his career. However, Phillips had a golden opportunity to be the man in both 2012 and 2013 with wide open quarterback battles taking place both years.

Instead, he was a stop-gap measure thanks to Joel Stave getting injured in 2012 and played in just 15 games throughout his career. In his most extensive action in 2012, Phillips completed just 46 of 81 passes in seven games (averaging a whopping 11.6 pass attempts per game) and was more a figure head handing the ball off than anything else.

Having a career completion rate of just 56.1 percent and throwing for five touchdowns to five interceptions sums up the sorry state of quarterback recruits signed to national letters of intent this past decade.

4. Bart Houston (2012)

Recruiting Info: 4-star, No. 211 Nationally; No. 6 Pro-style QB; No. 25 Overall in CA

Career QB Stats: 125-192 (65.1%), 1,540 yards, 9 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05: Bart Houston #13 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 05: Bart Houston #13 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Few quarterbacks have come in to the University of Wisconsin with as much anticipation as Bart Houston did. He was an Elite 11 finals competitor, which means a lot in quarterback recruiting circles, and played at California powerhouse De La Salle high school.

Unfortunately, that potential didn’t lead to a whole lot of production in his days in Madison. He constantly was passed up for the starting job, with the likes of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy edging him out over and over again in open competition.

Houston did finally earn the starting gig this past season, however part-way through the third game of the season he gave way to redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. The two eventually would split time and Houston would start the final few games after Hornibrook suffered a concussion against Minnesota.

This past season was by far the most productive of Houston’s career, completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions. The best thing Houston was able to do was make sure to take care of the ball more often than not. He wasn’t going to make the incredible throw, opting to take whatever the defense gave him.

Moves like that certainly helped that completion rate look real good. However, he would finish with a 8.0 yards per attempt average on his career. Not exactly eye-popping numbers for one of the supposed best quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school.

3. Tanner McEvoy (2013)

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 04: Tanner McEvoy #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers is knocked out of bounds by the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on October 4, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

EVANSTON, IL- OCTOBER 04: Tanner McEvoy #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers is knocked out of bounds by the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on October 4, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Recruiting Info: 3-star, No. 41 nationally, No. 1 Dual-Threat QB, No. 3 in Arizona (all JUCO rankings)

Career QB Stats: 65-112 (58%), 709 yards, 5 touchdowns, 6 interceptions

What the heck is this guy doing on the list? Well, let’s remember that McEvoy came in to help transition Wisconsin’s offense under then head coach Gary Andersen. McEvoy wasn’t much of a quarterback, but he did manage to become a dangerous part of Wisconsin’s secondary and is now plying his trade in the NFL as a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks.

In terms of athletic ability, no quarterback coming in to Wisconsin had it better than McEvoy. That helped him become a weapon on both sides of the ball, just not at quarterback.

He was sort of forced down the throat of a team not ready for the full transition to the spread-option look. That’s not totally his fault. But, he didn’t help himself as a pure quarterback with accuracy issues and an inability to avoid turnovers.

Eventually, Andersen was forced to admit the Badgers weren’t ready for the full switch in 2014 and in came Joel Stave.

Still, his senior season wasn’t a waste in 2015 as new head coach Paul Chryst and Co. made him in to a dangerous free safety. He put up 74 career tackles to go along with seven interceptions and 10 passes defended. Offensively, he was a rushing and receiving weapon that had 82 carries for 706 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. McEvoy also put up eight receptions for 10 yards in this three years at UW.

While he may not have panned out at quarterback, he was far from a bust for the Badgers as a pure football player.

2. Joel Stave (2011)

Recruiting Info: Walk-On

Career QB Stats: 613-1,031 (59.5%), 7,635 yards, 48 touchdowns, 37 interceptions

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers drops back and passes the football during the second half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Camp Randall Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joel Stave

MADISON, WI – SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers drops back and passes the football during the second half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Camp Randall Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joel Stave

Few players in Wisconsin history have the crazy story that Joel Stave had for his career. After all, he went from walk-on forgotten early-enrollee in the spring of 2011 to a potential-laden “star” of the spring game to a player that started parts or all of his next four years in a Bader uniform.

Stave was beaten out in 2012 originally by Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien, but that lasted all of two-and-a-half games. With the Badgers trailing against Utah State (which would only become more ironic after the season), Stave entered and engineered a comeback victory over the Aggies at Camp Randall Stadium.

He would then enter the 2013 season as part of a completely open competition thanks to Bret Bielema taking off for Arkansas and Utah State’s Gary Andersen coming on board. Stave won competition No. 2 for his job and finished that season completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. It was an up and down season to say the least, and with Andersen not wanting a pure drop-back passer at QB, it set up the perfect opportunity to open a third competition at the QB spot.

Stave would initially drop his second of three open competition to Tanner McEvoy to start the 2014 season. However, Stave would be called upon again as McEvoy struggled in the passing game and UW needed a spark. Stave nearly completed a crazy comeback win over the Wildcats in Evanston, but the hole was just a bit too deep. He would stay as the starter for the rest of the season and guid UW to an appearance in the Outback Bowl against Auburn.

After three years of open competitions, another head coaching change (the third since Stave arrived on campus in 2011) saw the end of that cycle. He would be named the starter from the moment Paul Chyrst arrived on campus and never looked back.

In the end, Stave had one of the strangest but also longest careers in Wisconsin history. He ended his career in the Cardinal and White second in passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdowns. While he may never have set the world on fire nationally, he goes down as one of the best quarterbacks in UW history according to the record books.

Longevity as a starter certainly helped, but Stave also had himself moments of pure brilliance. He is now in the NFL as a backup quarterback with the Minnesota Vikings.

1. Russell Wilson (2011)

Recruiting Info: Graduate Transfer

Stats at Wisconsin: 206-234 (72%), 2,879 yards, 31 touchdowns, 3 interceptions; 73 carries, 320 yards, 5 touchdowns rushing

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 02: Quarterback Russell Wilson #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers passes the ball as Ricky Heimuli #90 of the Oregon Ducks rushes in at the 98th Rose Bowl Game on January 2, 2012 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This may be a little bit of a cheat, but the reality is that graduate transfers are every bit as much a recruit as a junior in high school is. Schools all over the country were looking at the talent that Wilson had and after visiting late in the spring, Wilson chose the Badgers over all other suitors.

As the saying goes, the rest, my friends, is history.

Wilson went on to make what was a mess of a quarterback situation (it was so bad that a little-known walk-on named Joel Stave was the best of the bunch during the annual spring game) in to one of the most magical seasons in Badger history at the position.

He took what Scott Tolzien had just done and went to another level, leading UW back to the Rose Bowl after winning the first-ever Big Ten championship game over Michigan State. Although the Badgers lost that game, Wilson balled out like usual and propelled him to a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks because of it.

Without Wilson coming to Wisconsin in 2011 who knows where his professional career would’ve taken him or where the Badgers football program would be right now. Simply put, Wilson was a one-of-a-kind talent in a one-of-a-kind season.

Just watch and enjoy:

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Badgers fall victim to the trap, lose to Illinois

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This is why they don’t play the games on paper. On paper, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers should have been able to make quick work of a struggling Illinois Fighting Illini team.

Instead, it was a slog for the Badgers offense and Illinois took advantage of three turnovers for 17 points en route to a shocking 24-23 victory.

With the Badgers driving to potentially salt away a hard-fought victory, Jack Coan threw just his second interception of the season and Illinois drove the ball deep in to Wisconsin territory and kicked a game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.

Wisconsin’s usually rugged run game was off, and the stingy run defense was far from that. Yes, Jonathan Taylor went over the 5,000-yard mark for his career on the first carry of the game, but he would put up just 132 yards on 28 carries on the day and UW’s defense allowed a season-worst 141 yards on the ground to Illinois.

Prior to this game, Wisconsin’s worst performance on offense was 97 yards against Northwestern.

Taylor’s struggles included a brutal turnover, as he gained a first down at the Illinois 17-yard line but coughed up the football trying to fight for extra yardage a third time on the play.

Illinois drove the ball down for a touchdown in just 1:19 of game time and what could’ve been a three-score game turned in to a 23-21 lead with 5:53 to play.

Wisconsin drove the ball past midfield on the next possession appearing poised to put the game out of Illinois reach again, but stumbled near midfield.

On a 2nd and 11, Coan attempted to drop a pass to Jake Ferguson in between the zone. However, Tony Adams had backed off the underneath and picked off the pass at the Illinois 47-yard line.

From there, Illinois ripped off big run after big run to get themselves in to field goal range and the rest was history.

Ironically, it was Coan who powered the Badgers offense for most of the day, throwing for 263 yards on 24 of 32 passing.

Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown combined for 153 yards on the day for the Illini on 28 carries, and came up huge when they needed it as the game went on.

Illinois outplayed the Badgers up front on both sides of the ball and deserved this win.

This was easily the most shocking loss in the Paul Chryst era and a date with Ohio State looms large if Wisconsin wants to continue to hope to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

A loss next week and all control of their own destiny goes out the window.

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Badgers mid-season report card: Defense

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As Saturday’s game against Illinois inches closer to kick, it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that we are at the halfway point of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers season.

UW is 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country in both polls (if you want to care about those things). So, how did Wisconsin get here and who has been vital to all of that success so far?

Well, we’re taking a look back at the first half of the season for you. Earlier this week we took a look at our grades for the Badgers offense. Today, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Line: A+

One of the biggest question marks coming in to the 2019 season was the UW defensive line. With no Olive Sagapolu and two starting defensive ends coming off of major injuries, how would this group look in 2019? Well, the answer is pretty damn good.

Bryson Williams, the starting nose guard, went down with a bad injury early in the season and in stepped true freshman Keannu Benton, who ripped off back-to-back performances that were rated No. 1 on the team by Pro Football Focus.

Isaiahh Loudermilk had a small injury early on and has been very good since his return, while Garrett Rand is doing work on the other side. Perhaps the biggest story is that this group has been disruptive in a major way.

We’ve had Matt Henningsen score a touchdown not once, but twice and the defensive linemen have racked up 3.0 sacks to date. Not too bad for a group of unproven, but talented players.

Linebackers: A+

Another big question mark coming in to the year was if the Badgers could get enough pressure from its linebacker group to make a difference in 2019. Last season was a dramatic drop off in sacks and tackles from loss as a team, but there has been no such issue in 2019. j

Zack Baun has been one of the best players in the country through the halfway point of the season. He’s put up 26 tackles, has one pick-six, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks (tied for 8th nationally) through the first six games of the season.

It’s earned him Pro Football Focus mid-season first-team All-American honors. Considering he didn’t produce at nearly this level last season, it’s been a huge start for the senior.

On the opposite side of him, we’ve seen the combination of Izayah Green-May (missed time with a broken thumb) and Noah Burks become dangerous players in their own right. As a team, Wisconsin has put up 23 sacks through six games, which is more than they had in all of 2018 (19.0).

Jack Sanborn has been great and the pairing of him with Chris Orr has unleashed one of the most athletic and dangerous combinations of inside linebackers the Badgers have had since switching to the 3-4 defense when Gary Andersen arrived.

You could not draw up a more productive start to a season from a linebacker group if you tried.

Secondary: A

If you just go by the stats, it is hard to argue that Wisconsin isn’t playing some of its best ball against the pass that we’ve ever seen. I mean, they have allowed a Big Ten low three passing touchdowns and the team has eight overall interceptions, with two going for a defensive touchdown.

But, some of the stats can be misleading, especially those eight interceptions. The good news for the secondary is that five of the eight interceptions are attributed to the defensive backs, with starting safety Eric Burrell picking off a pair of passes.

It isn’t just the starting group that has held up well either. Wisconsin has had a next man up mentality and it has worked well. Colin Wilder and John Torchio stepped up when both Burell and fellow safety Reggie Pearson got tossed for hits to the head against Michigan.

Deron Harrell is credited with four pass breakups and Wilder with five to lead the secondary group in that category.

Overall, it’s hard to pick apart this group, but if there’s one area to watch it is their inconsistency in intermediate and deep balls. Luckily, most offenses don’t have enough time to set up a deep passing game so it hasn’t been much of a worry at all.

Overall: A+

Let’s just go over these stats given up by the Badgers defense once again:

4.8 points per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
44.6 rushing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
129.0 passing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
173.7 total yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally

In fact, Wisconsin’s 173.7 total yards per game given up is 60.3 yards per game better than the next best team — Ohio State — has given up this year.

Given all of that information, how could it not be an A+ so far this season? After all, Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team since the 1962 Minnesota Gophers team to pitch four shutouts in the first six games of a season.

Enough said.

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Badgers mid-season report card: Offense

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Believe it or not, but we have already reached the middle of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football season. I know, it doesn’t seem possible because there seems to be so much football ahead.

You would be right, what with Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota still looming large on the schedule and all.

But, as we want to look forward, we need to know the foundation that future has been built on. How have the Badgers faired so far in 2019? Let’s take a look position by position.

Offensive Line: A –

All seems to be rosy for the Badgers offensive line. They’ve given up a Big Ten-low of eight sacks and are the No. 2 rushing attack in the league, trailing only Ohio State. While you could say the Buckeyes have yet to face a real defense, they still are consistently putting up better numbers than Wisconsin has.

We’ll see if that holds up, but on the whole it is hard to argue that this group hasn’t been very good. They’ve dealt with a few injuries and haven’t really missed a beat for the most part.

If there’s one area that has put them from an A to an A- in my book, it is their performance in the run game against Northwestern and Michigan State at home. In both cases, Jonathan Taylor really struggled to get going and the offensive line found themselves back on their heels quite a bit. Thus, Taylor’s struggles.

Yes, both Northwestern and MSU are very good defensive fronts, but if you want to earn the top grades, you have to win more than they did up front against those two defensive lines. That’s especially worrisome when you see the defensive fronts that both Ohio State and Iowa can put out there.

This unit is very athletic and certainly can do some special things. But, it needs to be more consistent against high level defenses if the Badgers want to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. Not having a single member of this group on the Pro Football Focus mid-season All-American list tells me this group hasn’t been as good as potentially then can be by the end of the year.

Running Backs: B

Yes, Jonathan Taylor is a Pro Football Focus and everywhere else mid-season All-American and yes, he’s en route to break all sorts of historical marks, but there’s more to this group than Taylor and for that reason we have to give this group an overall grade of B.

In fact, if you were to take Taylor away from this position group, you would be far lower on the grade. Redshirt freshman Nakia Watson has picked up 53 carries for just 238 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. While that average isn’t bad, Watson hasn’t shown any flashes of being the next big star running back at Wisconsin with ample opportunities to do so.

Bradrick Shaw and Garrett Groshek haven’t been big factors in the Badgers run game either and Julius Davis appears headed for a complete redshirt. What happens if Taylor goes down? There hasn’t been anyone producing at a high enough level to give us confidence that it’ll just be “next man up” as we’ve seen year over year over year at UW since 1990.

John Chenal and Mason Stokke (pre-injury) have been very good fullbacks in the traditional Wisconsin mold, but they could be a bit better at their blocking technique and that will come with time on the field as both are younger options at fullback.

Overall, this group is doing well, I just downgrade for a lack of a second dynamic option at running back so far this year.

Tight Ends: B+

Much was expected out of junior tight end Jake Ferguson, so much so that many believed he would showcase himself and leave for the NFL after this season. After six games, I’m not so sure that is going to happen.

Yes, Ferguson is second on the team with 15 receptions, but he’s averaging 11 yards a catch and has just one touchdown to his name. Those numbers pace far behind last season.

There just seems to be something missing from the explosive player we saw in 2018, who caught 36 passes for over 450 yards and had four touchdowns to his name.

On the bright side, Ferguson has become a more reliable blocker and that could be the thing that gets him to the NFL a year early. We’ll see what happens the second half of the season though.

As for the rest of the group, it’s been hard to grade because injuries have piled up and not a single other tight end as caught a pass for the Badgers so far this season. So, when I look at Ferguson’s play, it’s hard to not give him a solid grade, but room for improvement and impact in the second half.

Wide Receivers: B-

There is no doubt that getting Quintez Cephus back in a Badgers uniform has been huge. But, with that said, this group has not produced the big plays we’d hope to see after a few years of experience for names like Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.

Cephus is the only receiver with a touchdown to his name, albeit there have only been eight passing touchdowns on the season. However, the leading TD man is running back Jonathan Taylor, who has four already this year.

Pryor came up big against Michigan State and overall this group has produced well when given the opportunity. But, the inability to get separation and thus stretch the defense holds them back.

Maybe the coaching staff is also holding back what we see from this group, as by-in-large, UW hasn’t had to open up the full offense to win a game this season.

Quarterback: A –

Alright, it’s time for Badgers nation to eat some crow here. Everyone thought that Coan was the second-coming of Alex Hornibrook after his first efforts last season. But, through the first six games, Coan has been anything but the second-coming of Hornibrook. In fact, you could say he’s been the anti-Hornibrook.

He’s been clutch, he’s making the smart decisions and he’s keeping drives alive. Doing that at Wisconsin, with the best running back in college football, is exactly what is needed.

Coan is completing a ridiculous 76.3 percent of his passes, which leads the league and is second nationally only to Joe Burrow at LSU. Now, he has only thrown for 1,119 yards (8th in the B1G) and you could say that isn’t great, but consider how he’s become a complementary piece to the run game and you can see why his efficiency and clutch play matters more.

Additionally, his eight touchdowns to just one interception ratio is phenomenal. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is the only other starter in the Big Ten that has thrown just one pick through the halfway point of the season.

I wanted to give a higher grade, but Coan has struggled to hit the deep ball at times and seems most comfortable hitting the seven to 15-yard passes. That’s fine, but having someone to really stretch a defense out of eight-man boxes would be nice.

Maybe I’m nitpicking, but Coan has established himself as the rightful starter and put to bed most of the critics by becoming the go-to force in the win over Michigan State after a shaky couple of weeks against Michigan and Northwestern.

Having three multiple-touchdown games given what Jonathan Taylor is doing on the ground is impressive through six games.

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Defense leads Badgers to win over Northwestern

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It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Wisconsin Badgers took down reigning West division champions, the Northwestern Wildcats just the same.

UW’s defense came up big in the 24-15 victory. What happened, which players were the highlights and what needs to be worked on as the 4-0 Badgers go out of conference next week?

Our publisher, Andrew Coppens, comes to you with his full recap of UW’s win.

Don’t forget to subscribe, hit that notifications bell and you’ll never miss a single video the rest of the year!

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