MADISON – The last time quarterback Joel Stave was able to play in front of thousands of fans in Camp Randall Stadium, he didn’t finish what he started, forced to leave the field with a broken left collarbone.
Almost six months later, Stave was back to prove that he’s ready to be the team’s quarterback once more.
“I didn’t want to get too hung up on the spring game, but the fact that there was people there I wanted to show that I was healthy,” said Stave, who threw for 161 yards and a touchdown as Wisconsin’s Cardinal (defense) squad defeated the White (offense) squad, 61-47, at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday. “I feel really good. I feel excited to compete during camp.”
Approximately 12,050 fans attended the scrimmage to get a glimpse of what Wisconsin – winners of the last three Big Ten championships - would look like under Andersen, who is installing a new 3-4 defense and making tweaks to the offense. Stave went in with the mindset that he wanted UW fans would remember him, too.
Stave started six consecutive games for Wisconsin last season, going 4-1 as a starter before breaking his collarbone Oct.27 in the second half against Michigan State. UW went 2-4 the rest of the season without him.
Now fully recovered, Stave staked his claim for the open quarterback job in the offense vs. defense scrimmage, completing 11 of his first 13 passes and finished the day 15-for-20.
“I thought Joel was poised today,” said head coach Gary Andersen. “He was perfect, but he doesn’t have to be perfect. They caught the ball good for him.”
After spiking his first pass into the turf on his first series, Stave completed the next five passes on a nine-play, 71-yard drive that ended with tailback Melvin Gordon scoring on an 11-yard touchdown.
“The first ball was pretty disappointing,” Stave said. “To come back, complete a few balls thereafter and move it down the field was pretty positive.”
Stave also completed a five-yard pass to fullback Derek Watt for the game’s only passing touchdown in the second quarter.
The starter for the final five games last season, including the Big Ten Championship game and the 99th Rose Bowl, Curt Phillips – who was granted a sixth year of eligibility following the season – finished 8-for-13 for 82 passing yards and a 31-yard pass to junior Kenzel Doe, the longest play from scrimmage.
Andersen said both Stave and Phillips have separated themselves on a roster with six quarterbacks.
“I think this last week, if I look at both of those two, we’re moving in the right direction with just feeling comfortable what’s going on,” said Andersen.
Gordon carried the ball 17 times for 74 yards while Doe had a team-high eight catches for 93 yards for Wisconsin, which opens the season August 31 at home against UMass.
“The pass game was good today,” said Gordon. “The run game I could have made more plays and be more explosive. We’ve got to get better in that area, and we will.”
Utilizing a scoring system that rewarded points for three-and-outs, sacks and tackle for losses, Wisconsin’s new-look 3-4 defense was active with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Linebackers Joe Schobert and Marcus Trotter each registered a team-high seven tackles for a defense missing six potential starters.
“We played a pretty good game today without a lot of guys,” said senior linebacker Chris Borland. “We made somewhat of a statement, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
With his first spring practice completed, Andersen said the attention of the players turns to finishing out the academic year, having a sit-down meeting with him to gauge where each person is at individually and to prepare mentally for the beginning of the team’s summer conditioning program June 9.
After the goals he believes his team accomplished this spring, Andersen believes his team is ready to transition into the next phase.
“We’re in a good spot,” said Andersen. “You’re never going to get everything you want and it’s never going to be perfect, but we wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that … It was a good spring. Excited to continually move forward.”