And just like he did before the season opener against LSU, head coach Gary Andersen won’t say who’ll get the start between Tanner McEvoy, who’s started the past five games, or Joel Stave, who has started 19 games in his career.
“We’ll go into this game with the bottom line of what the best opportunity we believe for us to be able to win,” Andersen said Thursday. “I think both those quarterbacks have had enough opportunities to be in a spot and to be able to play. Joel has been obviously limited to one game this season. They both have been in the moment, both have been in those situations, so if we have a young man who’s rolling through the game at a high success level we could very easily stick with that.”
Even though reports have started to surface that Stave will start in Wisconsin’s Big Ten home opener, Andersen is still anticipating that McEvoy will see some playing time against Illinois (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) in a capacity still to be determined. It is always a risk when you switch quarterbacks during a game but it may be a risk Andersen needs to take in order to get the offense rolling.
“Those packages for certain situations will still be available to us, much like you would say you get a call sheet and it’s second-and-4,” said Andersen. “It’s a controlled down for (offensive coordinator) Andy (Ludwig) and he has the power play, he has the zone play, he has some play action, there’s an opportunity to have Tanner in there that will open up two or three different runs. So you may see him in those settings in certain situations.”
Andersen said earlier this week that there would be a chance both quarterback would be on the field at the same time, but he scrapped that idea, saying he didn’t want to try and invent something this week. He did hint that a package for a pair of them could be installed during Wisconsin’s bye week.
With both quarterbacks having even reps this week, Andersen said he consulted with Ludwig on the starter but left that decision completely up to him.
“Andy and I have sat down and discussed the offense, and I’ve watched practice,” Andersen said. “Andy is a very good coordinator and he gets paid to turn around and make those decisions. I think right now the opportunity for him to do what he thinks is best for his offense and have both those kids in that spot is important.”
For Andersen, his expectations of Stave and McEvoy are pretty simple; he wants them to know their role for Saturday and for them to be put in a position where they can succeed.
“Andy, Joel Stave, and Tanner McEvoy will handle that and they’re in a good spot, (and) I think they will understand exactly where they fit,” Andersen said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the key is how’s the offense around those two kids.”
Slow Start for Shelton
It is probably not the season sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton envisioned for himself. After recording four interceptions in 12 starts as a true freshman, Shelton – despite leading the defensive backs with 15 tackles – does not have an interception and has given up big plays in the passing game.
Even though the numbers say otherwise, Andersen is still pleased with the production he has received out of the sophomore.
“He’s been very solid,” said Andersen. “I think he expects more out of himself and I know there’s more in Sojourn. He’s played good, and he’ll expect to continually play better. He has high expectations and so do I as he continues through his career.”
Andersen said he and Shelton have sat down and talked about where the cornerbacks is in his development. Andersen said that he would continue to push Shelton, just like he would with all of his players in order for them to reach what they are capable of.
“I think anytime when you have a young man that’s talented, I tell these kids I’m going to push them,” Andersen said. “I’m going to push them physically, I’m going to push them mentally, I’m going to be hard on them, and I’m going to be critical … Pushing him hard and continually pushing him this season is important, and I think it is a big part of this job.”
Improvements from Last Week
It was an uncharacteristic poor performance by the offensive line and by the defense as a whole.
Even though the offensive line was able to pave the way for 284 rushing yards, the unit struggled in pass protection against Northwestern, giving up just one sack but a number of pressures that led to turnovers. With senior right tackle Rob Havenstein and others being vocal about their disappointment afterwards, Andersen has been pleased with how the offensive line has looked this week.
“Solid week of practice but I’ve never seen that group not have a solid work week,” Andersen added. “Their expectation level is to play very good on Saturday.”
Tackling was another area of concern for Andersen, as the Badgers unofficially missed 16 tackles in the loss to the Wildcats and gave up a handful of big plays as a result. Andersen knows what he wants to see out of his defense this week.
“You’re always going to say stop the run first, that’s an easy one,” said Andersen, “but past that, great communication, and great tackling those two things.”
On the teams slow starts to begin games
“I think the biggest key would be if Melvin Gordon gets 43 yards on his first carry then we would be a fast starting team. I don’t know if there really is one thing I can put my finger on. There’s numerous ways where we’ve stopped ourselves from having success in the first quarter … A lot has been made about the slow start and I think these kids want to start the right way. On the flip side we’ve started fast on defense, good on one side bad on the other.”
Extra Points: Senior middle linebacker Marcus Trotter (groin) will not play Saturday … With no wide receiver stepping up behind redshirt junior Alex Erickson, Andersen said he is open to play his three freshmen wide receivers more to get game opportunities.