The sophomore quarterback was nothing short of exceptional in Saturday's annual Cardinal-White spring game, played this season at Madison La Follette's Lussier Stadium due to construction at Camp Randall.
Stocco unofficially completed 12 of 18 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half. He led the Cardinal squad, which spotted the White 24 points, on three touchdown drives, helping it overcome an early 31-0 disadvantage for a 38-34 win.
"I feel very comfortable with John Stocco," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I think he has what it takes to be an outstanding quarterback in this league…I think he's a good decision maker. There is no question about his physical ability. He has a strong arm, he has good feet, he can run and physically he can take a hit."
Fortunately for Wisconsin, Stocco did not need to show off his ability to take hits Saturday. Rather, he smoothly dropped back and picked the White defense apart, delivering the ball at a pace that made it impossible for opposing pass rushers to put any pressure on him. Stocco was very efficient, placing the ball accurately to all parts of the field and throwing the ball harder than the team's previous starter, Jim Sorgi.
"He has a quick release and there is a lot more velocity on the pass," junior receiver Jonathan Orr said. "We had to get in and out of routes faster and (you had to) get your head around faster."
Stocco completed his first four passes, the second a 63-yard touchdown to Orr. Soon after a 21-yard pass to junior Owen Daniels, Stocco threaded the needle between two defenders to connect with sophomore Jeff Holzbauer on a post-corner route for 22 yards. That set up junior fullback Matt Bernstein's 5-yard touchdown run.
"I thought the one throw, a touch throw between two defenders on the boundary, really said a lot about how (Stocco) played and how accurate he was when he threw the ball," Alvarez said.
It was a far cry from last spring when, in his first spring game, Stocco completed just 6 of 11 passes for 49 yards and an interception.
"I felt like I did a lot of things this game that I set out to do whereas last year was a little uncomfortable for me," Stocco said. "This is definitely 100 times better than last year."
Saturday, only one of Stocco's completions went for less than 10 yards and he completed six passes that went for more than 15 yards.
"I would have thrown it deep every play but we've got offensive coordinators for a reason," Stocco said with a laugh.
Who will back Stocco up, though, remains a concern. Senior Matt Schabert started for the White team but played just one series, completing 2 of 4 passes for 22 yards. Redshirt freshman Tyler Donovan played the rest of the first half with the White squad, going 3-for-12 for 33 yards and an interception. He replaced Stocco at the helm of the Cardinal squad in the second half and was 4-for-9 for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Sean Lewis quarterbacked the White squad in the second half, going 2-for-3 for 18 yards.
"I think Tyler made strides (this spring). I'm anxious to take a look at some of our younger guys as they come in," Alvarez said, alluding to recruits Bryan Savage and Marcus Randle El, who will join the team in August. "I'm not as comfortable as I'd like to be right now."
"I thought Schabert did some good things when he was in there," Alvarez added. "He is smart, knows where to go with the football.
"Those other two guys, they have a long way to go yet."
A number of receivers on the Cardinal squad had impressive afternoons. Orr had two receptions for 76 yards and the touchdown, Daniels had four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown and Holzbauer had four catches for 73 yards. Brandon White caught both of Donovan's second-half touchdown passes, which went for 40 and 48 yards, respectively.
"Brandon White had a very good day. I thought those last two catches were really big time," Alvarez said.
As he did last season and throughout the spring, Daniels played both tight end and receiver Saturday. In the past year he has undergone knee surgery and a position change from quarterback.
"I think he's developed himself into being a good receiver, a good route runner," Alvarez said. "He's worked on his hands. And he really is a guy that presents matchup problems for a defense."