Notes: A Mysterious Plan in Place

Heading into the final nonconference game of the season, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema denied his team has a quarterback controversy, especially since he's already made a decision on which quarterbacks will play. He's just not telling anybody outside his program until Saturday.

MADISON – Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema already knows which quarterback (or quarterbacks) will play in the Badgers final nonconference game against UTEP. He also said those involve also know what the plans are.

But if you think he's going to let the media in on the plan, forget it.

Not only did Bielema not name a starting quarterback for Saturday, the seventh-year head coach made it clear during his Monday news conference that the quarterbacks won't be available to the media on Tuesday like normal procedure.

"You won't talk to them, but they know," said Bielema.

For that reason, Bielema deflected the notion that Wisconsin (2-1) is in a quarterback competition, especially he and his offensive coaches ‘kind of have a game plan in place.' Wisconsin lists junior Danny O'Brien and freshman Joel Stave are listed as co-starters on his newly released depth chart with senior Curt Phillips listed as the backup.

"I think we have a plan that we'll move forward with as coaches," said Bielema. "It isn't a thing that we're wasting time on. The decision was pretty clean. I think the decision to go with Joel in the second half took about five seconds when I was finally with my coaches face to face on Saturday …We went with it and ran (with it) to get a win."

O'Brien went 5-for-10 for 63 yards with one turnover in the first half, but it was the interception that was nullified because a roughing-the-passer penalty that had Bielema and offensive coordinator Matt Canada upset during the game.

"It's one thing to have an incomplete pass, but to have a turnover, that's a different deal," said Bielema. "I'd much rather have the ball on the ground or out of bounds rather than in the defender's hands. That's a big, big point of what we're doing. I understand interceptions happen. Tipped ball on a good pass to the "D" lineman breaks up, that's a different deal. But a throw late across the field and some things like that, we can't win with that."

Inserted in the second half, Stave completed 2-of-6 passes for 15 yards. He engineered one six-play, 42-yard touchdown drive that consisted of six runs to Montee Ball. Other than that, Stave's other 20 plays were either a handoff or a kneel down.

Even though Stave was kept on a short leash, Bielema said the redshirt freshman might have the best arm of the quarterbacks with his strength and ability to throw the football.

"He's got great composure," Bielema said of Stave. "The one thing you can count on with Joel is what you call and what you expect a play to see and the reactions you would have to get from a quarterback, whether it's pre-snap reads or reads within the play.

"Joel is pretty educated. Obviously he only has one half as a quarterback that's on the field so that's the part that's unknown."

Although he didn't get a chance to speak to O'Brien following his decision to switch quarterbacks or after the game, Bielema praised the way his first-year quarterback handled an uncomfortable situation that O'Brien has been in before. "When we decided to recruit Danny O'Brien I knew I was getting a good football player but I knew I was getting a great person," said Bielema. "That probably went into it more than anything. I wanted to make sure I had a kid that was a good fit.

"I don't make my guys go to interviews. I talk to them in fall camp and say, ‘hey, if you feel comfortable in going I'd love to have you go.' A lot of times if you don't go it's going to come back at you tenfold rather than if you just go and show up. And he went and said some things that I think were true. I remember distinctly in the fourth quarter where we had a timeout or there was a break in the action on the field and Danny was communicating with Joel as much as anybody out there on the field through Matt on the headset.

"That just made me take a step back, because here Curt (Phillips) and Danny were as engaged with Joel Stave trying to win this football game, and they were into it 100 percent which is fun as a head coach. That's why we have a chance. We have great kids that pull together and do things in the right way.

More than the OL

While much of the attention for the stalls in the running game has been put on an offensive line looking to replace three new starters, Wisconsin's offense is also trying to replace tight end Jake Byrne and fullback Bradie Ewing, two of UW's most talented blocking weapons from a season ago.

"I think it's fair to say that at all positions - offensive line, tight end, fullback - we haven't been as effective in some of the same type of block," said Bielema. "There's good players that left the door."

Byrne's role as a blocking tight end is trying to be filled by junior tight end Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, two players who have also been quiet in the passing game through three weeks. Ewing's role is being filled by freshman Derek Watt, who was taking snaps as a reserve linebacker a little over a month ago.

It's just another challenge for Bielema, who has only nine scholarship seniors and upwards of 50 freshmen on his 115-man roster.

"We're a really young team," said Bielema. "That's not just age. That's also physical development, the way we kind of do things here at Wisconsin. I know I lost the same number of starters last year to this year. But last year I had a lot of seniors stepping into those roles. This year I've got a lot of sophomores and juniors and freshmen and it's just a different process.

Another opportunity for Doe

Bielema did not have an update on junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who missed Saturday's game while still recovering from a concussion that occurred in Wisconsin's week two loss at Oregon State. If Abbrederis is cleared to play, the UW coaches will likely limit his workload, meaning sophomore Kenzel Doe will get another opportunity to return punts.

"Kenzel has been intriguing to me since I first laid eyes on him during film to watch him in high school camp, to watching him in our practices and stuff," said Bielema. "He's exciting. He's got a burst. I think he's fast, but I think he's really fast when people are chasing him."

Doe showed that characteristic on Saturday, running away from three Utah State defenders to score an 82-yard touchdown on just his second career punt return. That was the start of 13 unanswered points for Wisconsin to retake the lead for good in the third quarter.

Extra Points: Bielema said Phillips would have gone into the game at Oregon State over Stave had there been an injury to O'Brien just because it would have been a hostile environment and a tough situation for Stave to overcome … Although UW didn't award an offensive MVP, Bielema awarded Devin Smith defensive MVP, Doe special teams MVP, Ray Ball offensive scout MVP and Josh Harrison defensive scout MVP … Wisconsin's 11 a.m. kickoff against UTEP will air on ESPN2.

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