Grimyser: Shake off the Change up

Although Wisconsin stuck with junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, head coach Bret Bielema admitted that redshirt freshman Curt Phillips is still a viable option in the UW backfield, should the right situation present itself. Instead of worrying about which one goes where, Bielema should pick one and leave it alone.

MADISON - For the past four years, Wisconsin has used a different starter at quarterback. During the last three seasons, it has been a first-time starter each year. And now, the Badgers are using a dual quarterback system.

History says successful teams maintain consistency at that position because a quarterback requires extra coddling, time practicing within the offensive system and, most importantly, confidence from his coach. Flip-flopping back and forth between quarterbacks can be dangerous for the whole team.

However, after last season's 7-6 record, every option should be on the table for UW coach Bret Bielema to avoid another disappointing year. He might have followed the example of the Florida Gators during their 2006 season when they rode both their quarterbacks to a National Championship.

Even if that is not the case, Bielema has his reasons for switching quarterbacks.

"If we were moving the ball well, [backup Curt Phillips] could be a nice changeup for us, kind of a guy to bring in and do some things," said Bielema.

So are Bielema's recent quarterback shuffles desperate or creative?

If Saturday against Fresno State is any indication, Bielema needs to stop worrying about ‘changeups' and instead make sure his team is completing its basic responsibilities.

On too many occasions, the shoddy pass protection made it impossible for starter Scott Tolzien to pass effectively as Fresno State defenders were flying past Wisconsin's inexperienced offensive line. The Badgers also had their top receivers drop several easy catches.

Despite those circumstances, Tolzien actually played well against the Bulldogs in the 34-31 win. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 143 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. His most remarkable feat might have been not letting his teammates' inconsistency hold him back.

"I was a little nervous about all the bodies flying around [Tolzien]," said Bielema. "The one thing he understands is he knows where the ball is supposed to go. His eyes are going to be [looking in the right spot]. I just like the composure that he has."

Yet Bielema did not let Tolzien direct the offense without worrying about being told to sit on the bench for a series or two. Is it possible that when Bielema scans his roster, he doesn't see the potential for an explosive aerial attack built, so he believes ‘changeups' are the only possible solution?

Because using two quarterbacks doesn't seem to give Wisconsin any decided advantage. The perceived weakness of Tolzien – his lack of running ability – was never an issue against Fresno State. In fact, Tolzien avoided several sacks, including one occasion where he juked two defenders and turned what should have been a sizeable loss into a five-yard gain.

To be fair, no one, not even his most adamant critics, would argue that Bielema should stand pat and do nothing. But the most important concern for the offense – the young line and inconsistency from the receiving core – can't be fixed with quick remedies at quarterback each year.

Bielema should have learned that lesson from last year.

After transferring from Kansas State, Bielema recruited Allan Evridge, and before the 2008 season Evridge was named the opening-day starter. However, when he struggled, Bielema quickly pulled him from the line-up and put Dustin Sherer in his place. Overall, the whole year was a mess.

As much as they deny it, no quarterback is fan of the dual system. The younger player, who needs more experience, is pulled the moment anything goes wrong. The veteran, who might finally have gotten into a groove, gets pulled to make way for someone he already proved he was better than.

This year Bielema had several options at quarterback: develop the young Phillips, anoint Sherer the starter again or began a new chapter with Tolzien.

Bielema chose the worst of those options – a combination. Similar to last year, Wisconsin experiences the inconsistency created by shuffling to a new quarterback, has to adjust between multiple starters in the same year and has its quarterback second-guess every pass.

Last week with Tolzien passing effectively against Northern Illinois, he was substituted and put back in shortly thereafter. Except when he returned, he threw a quick interception, breaking all of Wisconsin's momentum and turning a blowout into a nail biter.

And apparently, there is no pattern to when Bielema uses which quarterback.

"By no means did we say this game, ‘we were going to bring [Phillips] in during the third series or get you in during the first quarter,'" said Bielema.

Does that mean it's a gut feeling? And if it is, it makes no sense to substitute when one quarterback is playing well like he did last week.

To contrast with Wisconsin, Florida was successful in 2006 because their situation was vastly different than what Bielema is dealing with now. Florida had veteran quarterback who was starting for the four-year straight year and a young backup, Tim Tebow, who became one of the best college athletes of all-time.

Wisconsin has none of those positives, but Bielema promises to continue to use more of the dual-quarterback attack in the future. With Phillips and Tolzien being relatively young, Bielema concedes that part of his reason for using both players is their youth.

But he needs to realize that by desperately changing quarterbacks each year or using two quarterbacks, he only makes things worse on his offense by complicating them.


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