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Joel Stave’s strange journey ends with him being Badgers ultimate winner



Joel Stave’s collegiate football career can only be described as strange. He’s seen Big Ten championships, three different head coaches, two transfer quarterbacks put ahead of him and still found himself as one of the best career quarterbacks in a Wisconsin Badgers uniform.

Many a quarterback has seen change and failed — even inside the Big Ten. Christian Hackenberg, a one-time 5-star prodigy, has been ruined by coaching change and its resulting horrid offensive line at Penn State, for the most recent example.

However, the former in-state walk-on conquered all of the adversity put in front of him during a four-year journey few would have survived, let alone thrived in.

It was only fitting then, that the ultimate fighter would become the ultimate winner in a Badgers uniform. As the clocked ticked away on Wisconsin’s 23-21 Holiday Bowl victory, it was also victory No. 31 for Stave as a starter — a feat no other quarterback in UW history had obtained.

He’ll be etched in the record books as the No. 1 quarterback in terms of career wins, yet he also may be the most maligned quarterback in UW history as well.

Maybe the only thing more fitting than going out a winner was the fact that it was Stave surviving a strange set of circumstances within the Holiday Bowl that got him win No. 31.

Stave and the Badgers weren’t expected to outduel USC’s high-powered passing attack, but that’s exactly what happened when it mattered most. Before a final drive flurry, Stave was outdueling Kessler on the stat sheet in a major way.

As it was, Stave finished the game completing 64 percent of his passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.

Not eye-popping numbers, but efficient and important at opportune times. Stave was a perfect complement to a defense that was holding the Trojans down for the majority of the game.

Kessler would ultimately finish with 221 yards, but completed just 56 percent of his passes and had a touchdown to go with an interception.

However, the biggest difference came in Stave’s ability to be clutch in the face of immense pressure. This time the pressure came in the form of a crazy situation for his team and a crazy individual situation.

As the Badgers tried to come back from a 21-20 deficit in the middle of the fourth quarter, Stave took a hit and was inadvertently stepped on by a USC defender, appearing to take a foot to the face.

Stave was bloodied and perhaps suffered from a broken nose.

Instead of just allowing Bart Houston to take over for more than was necessary, Stave toughed it up and put some tape across his nose once the bleeding was under control and stuffed a cotton swab up his nose and went right back out there.

What resulted was classic Joel Stave, as he led the Badgers on a 7-play, 42-yard drive to put UW in a position to kick a potential game-winning field goal. As sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone’s kick went through the uprights with just 2:27 to go, Stave’s job was complete.

He had done it again — bringing the Badgers back from the brink of defeat and putting the rest of his team in position to win it.

It was just the final twist in what would be a hugely successful, but also controversial career. Stave didn’t do it alone either, another hallmark of his historic career.

The defense came through, as Jack Cichy capped off a fearsome second half (game-high 9 tackles, 3.0 sacks) with a tip of Kessler’s third down pass right in to the arms of a waiting Sojourn Shelton.

Shelton’s interception was the lone one of the game, and while UW didn’t get a first down on the ensuing possession, the time off the clock forced USC’s hand right back in to the strength of the Badgers defense — pass rushing.

Wisconsin’s defense force a 4-and-out and it was all over but the trophy presentation. Stave not only hoisted a second-straight bowl game title trophy, he also raised a MVP trophy for himself in this one.

However, the story begins some five seasons ago when Stave was a little freshman that no one knew. The Wisconsin Badgers quarterback went from little known quantity to intriguing prospect following an impressive 2011 spring football game. Many in observance saw him as the best option amongst a wholly unimpressive group around him.

Scholarship names like Joe Brennan, Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips all failed to impress or were injured in spring ball. That’s where Stave stepped in, showing a glimmer of hope on a dreary day in terms of the weather and the performance of quarterbacks around him.

However, Stave was just a walk-on freshman that entered college a semester early. Bret Bielema pulled one of the biggest recruiting jobs of his career in the early summer, getting former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson to transfer for his final season after UW lost long time starters Scott Tolzien to the NFL.

Stave would sit that season and redshirt, but still many doubted if he would be an answer ever in his career at Wisconsin.

Wilson would go on to set all sorts of single-season records and become one of the most beloved Badgers of the last decade. It didn’t hurt he did it with style, flair and a fun-loving attitude while also being ultra-competitive.

Stave? Well, he’s about the exact opposite of Wilson in terms of persona and personality. From day one to the very end of it all, Stave wasn’t exactly easy in front of the cameras or reporters.

Having been there for his first go-round with the media and during his final go-round, Stave never got used to the bright lights — it simply wasn’t and isn’t who he is.

He’d rather wear a college hoodie and play the piano than deal with questions from throngs of media and live in the spotlight that being a starting quarterback at a major university brings.

Still, Stave and Wilson had one major thing in common — an undeniable craving for competition and winning.

Wilson would go 11-2 during his one year in Madison, while Stave would finish 31-10 for the fourth-best winning percentage of any quarterback in UW history.

The next season, Stave still wasn’t thought of as the ultimate option and Wisconsin looked to Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien to be the one-and-done option to continue UW’s streak of Big Ten championships.

O’Brien turned in two-and-a-half lackluster (and that’s being nice) performances before Stave got the call. He would lead the Badgers to a comeback victory over Utah State, and he never looked back as the starter again in 2012.

Stave would go on to finish his first campaign of action with 1,104 yards and six touchdowns to three interceptions in just eight total games. It was a promising start, but before he could get comfortable change was about to come in waves.

With original offensive coordinator Paul Chryst already off to the head coaching gig at Pitt in 2011, Stave would take in a new head coach the following year as Bielema left for Arkansas and AD Barry Alvarez went on to hire Gary Andersen of Utah State.

Andersen opened up the QB competition in 2013 and again in 2014, with Stave responding well the first time around. He competed in 13 games and passed for 2,494 yards and a career-high 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.

Even as late as the 2014 season, Stave still was fighting for his starting job. Head coach Gary Andersen wanted a running option at quarterback and shoved Tanner McEvoy down the throat of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig at the end of fall camp.

What ensued was an offense so one-dimensional that it barely escaped non-conference play with less than the opening loss to LSU. Stave also was suffering from the famous case of the “yips” and only came on after a disastrous start by McEvoy in the Big Ten opener against Northwestern.

Stave clearly wasn’t al the way back from those yips, and was unable to complete the comeback he had done so many times before — throwing a key interception as Wisconsin was pushing for a go-ahead drive.

However, he was clearly sparking a moribund offense and took over as the full-time starter after that game.  Stave would finish his junior season with 1,350 yards and nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He also completed a career-low 53 percent of his passes.

The quarterback who survived all comers, all critics and his own mental issues after getting knocked down would still face one more larger hurdle.

Andersen took off following the 2014 season, leaving Alvarez to hire a familiar face in Paul Chryst. Nearly immediately, Chryst canned any talk of a quarterback competition and named Stave his starter.

It all led to another 10-win season for the Badgers and a ton of career records for Stave as well.

To be sure, he didn’t earn all of the 31 wins on his own. He certainly had help from the likes of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement at running back and multiple NFL draft picks ahead of him on the offensive line.

He also had some consistent wide receiver named Alex Erickson, who was two receptions (77) shy of breaking the school record for single-season receptions (78) currently held by Jared Abbrederis from the 2013 season.

Not to forget about a defense that has grown from very good to one of the most feared in all of college football.

Still, Stave finishes tops in wins (31), had the most 200-yard passing games in a career (18), the most attempts, second in career passing yards (7,635), career touchdowns (48) and holds many more individual season records as well.

All of that for a walk-on that was passed over twice and faced with plenty of adversity, competition and injuries throughout his career.

Not too bad for a guy few loved and most enjoyed hating on over the last five years in a Badgers uniform. Perhaps some distance will make Badger fans remember just how good the times were with Joel Stave behind center, directing this team and getting positive results in the face of so many obstacles.

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Badgers football

Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019



Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.

Previous Positions:Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker |

No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.

With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.

But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.

Best Case Scenario

The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.

Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.

Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.

No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.

Worst Case Scenario

If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.

My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.

Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.

As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.

Most Likely to Happen

As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.

I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.

It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.

Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.

As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.

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Badgers football

Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019



We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Badgers football

Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019



This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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Badgers football

Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019



The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.

With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line |

Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.

After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.

Best Case Scenario

If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.

The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.

For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.

Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.

Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.

That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.

In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.

Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?

Most Likely to Happen

I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.

Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.

Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.

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