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MADISON - There will come a time when Wisconsin will have an incumbent starting quarterback entering a new season. That time is not now, as Wisconsin will have a new opening-day starter for the third straight season.
The question now is will be the veteran or the rookie?
The quarterback play was inconsistent and generally ineffective throughout last season. Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer were awful during a four-game losing streak, throwing eight of the team’s 11 interceptions on the year against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa.
The veteran, Sherer (a fifth-year senior), still looks to have a grasp on the starting position, but is still battling issues that plagued him last season. He finished the spring game 6-for-9 for 101 yards and one passing touchdown and also rushed for a touchdown, showing that he does have some speed. He has good zip on his passes and can throw the out route better than anyone on the roster.
The problem is consistency, as Sherer also threw a nasty interception in that spring game that was returned for a touchdown.
“The one thing I know we took out of the experiences of our past is we cannot beat ourselves, before the snap or by unforced errors," Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "That throw came out late ... you cannot have those types of situations, especially out of a fifth-year player. On the same accord, Dustin has done a lot of good things. He’s improved a lot. If you look at him today from where he was a year ago at this time, he’s significantly better. That got me excited.”
In addition to his year of experience under the center, one of the reasons Sherer has improved was a trip down to Florida during UW’s spring break. After throwing passes with a lower arm angle last year, Sherer’s throwing motion is more fluid, his release is shorter and his mechanics improve with each passing session.
"It's hard to change your throwing motion after 22 years because I’ve been throwing that way since I was young,” said Sherer. “Bottom line is that I need to get better and I want to come out here and be better everyday. I'm the starter and I want to carry myself that way. I want to show my teammates that I can be a leader for them.”
Battling Sherer for that starting role is the rookie, redshirt freshman Curt Phillips, who performed well under the gun in the spring game. Also going down to Florida to the quarterback camp, Phillips is confident and strong throwing the football. In addition to running for a pair of scores on the naked bootleg, Phillips lead the offense on a 74-yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
“It’s a huge difference from last spring,” Phillips said. “To be able to study the playbook more and work with Coach Chryst is on a completely different comfort level compared to where I started. Last year I was just trying to get the right play. Now, just like everybody else, I am trying to make the right read and everything is needing to be quicker, quicker. I know that I need to make my reads quicker in order to be effective.
“With the comfort level, everything slows down, which is going to help me make my reads quicker.”
While he still has inconsistencies when he tries to unload a deep pass, with a plethora of capable wide receivers and bruising running backs, the UW quarterbacks may not need to uncork the home run pass that often.
“If Curt is the guy, there are certain things that he does as a quarterback that he does better or differently from Dustin or Scott or Jon,” Bielema said. “We would want to put him in those situations. That’s common sense coaching. If a guy has a strength, we want to use that and maximize that the best we can. He’s made a big statement to me.”
And with that, the UW quarterback chase became a two-horse race, although there are three others trying to get in the mix. Junior Scott Tolzien, who his teammates have nicknamed ‘Niedermayer,’ is the smartest of the quarterbacks and, according to Sherer, can diagram every play forwards and backwards.
Working primarily with the second-team offense, Tolzien showcased that knowledge by reading the routes and delivering the pass with some decent throws. Working with inexperienced lineman, however, Tolzien didn’t have the best protection around him, which caused him to rush some plays and struggle with some throws.
“Every year since I got here it’s seemed like there has been a battle,” Tolzien said. “My first year, John Stocco was the guy but ever since then, it has been a competition and there is nothing wrong with that. It pushed everyone to compete at their highest level (and) I know that I can do it. I’ve just got to be more consistent and try not to make so much of the competition. I need to look at it as a personal battle and let things fall into place.”
True freshman Jon Budmayr will probably have to wait another year before getting the chance to start under center, but certainly created a stir when he stepped onto campus in January.
Although standing barely 6-feet-1, Budmayr’s strong arm and fearlessness made him standout early, as he perfected the limited plays he was given by making the right reads and completing the deep ball with solid field vision.
“The biggest thing the coaches have told me and I’ve told myself is to keep learning with each rep,” Budmayr said. “I am happy with where I have been, but I can obviously still get better. I just have to develop into where I know what each guy is doing on each route and know why I threw it to this guy instead of because he was open. Little things like that I have to pick up on and get better at. Otherwise it’s been good.”
Unfortunately, Budmayr’s first week of camp was his best one, as a groin injury hampered him for the remainder of the spring, limiting some of his ability. Even so, Budmayr made an impression, showing that he’s going to be involved in the quarterback competition throughout his tenure at Wisconsin.
“One thing I told myself during the injury was never take it for granted,” Budmayr said. “Just to be out here on the field playing football is what I love. This is great being out here being able to throw. If I wasn’t here, I would be a home doing workouts. I think the experience you get out of this is unbelievable and well worth it. The experience is definitely going to benefit down the road.”
Also new to the fold is freshman quarterback Nate Tice, who transferred to Wisconsin from Central Florida this summer. Throwing for about 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns and making first-team all-conference and second-team all-state back in high school, Tice, son of former Viking head coach Mike Tice, adds more competition to an already competitive group.
“Heading to the Big Ten is a big challenge there,” Tice said in a Badger Nation exclusive. “The big thing is getting back to practice, learning an offense and all those little things. It’s so weird that the stuff you hated everyday like practices and workouts is the stuff you miss the most. You miss the early morning meetings, the team lifting and all the tortuous stuff. People might think I am crazy to be excited to do all that stuff again, but I really am.”
Over the course of spring practice, both Sherer and Phillips worked primarily with the No. 1 offensive units, and both were able to showcase their strengths (Sherer’s confidence delivering passes in the pocket, and Phillips making plays happen with his legs). It’s going to be Sherer’s job to lose, but a Wisconsin quarterback needs to be an impact player, not a caretaker. Sherer has to show he can make plays, or UW could have a 19-year-old starting quarterback.
Fall Depth Chart
Sr. Dustin Sherer (6-4, 217)
R-Fr. Curt Phillips (6-3, 215)
R-Jr. Scott Tolzien (6-3, 202)
R-Fr. Nate Tice (6-4, 227)
Fr. Jon Budmayr (6-1, 200)