MADISON, Wis. — A two-quarterback system is working out just fine after all for No. 14 Wisconsin.
Starter Joel Stave is the pocket passer. Tanner McEvoy is the change-of-pace running threat. The Badgers (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) are undefeated since coach Gary Andersen started alternating the tandem behind center in Week 6, with the frequency of switches picking up as the comfort level grew.
No. 22 Minnesota (8-3, 5-2) is the next team that will try to figure out Wisconsin’s two-quarterback operation Saturday in what is a de facto Big Ten West division title game. The victor faces East winner Ohio State in the conference championship game next week.
“Yeah, I think it puts (defenses) in a tough spot, just because they know the kind of power offense that we’re going to run, the downhill running and the play-action pass,” Stave said. “But then when I come out and Tanner goes in, the offense completely changes — a spread running game.”
In either case, it helps immensely to have Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon in the backfield to take handoffs. There’s nothing quite like a 2,100-yard rusher to draw the spotlight away from quarterback play.
Slowly but surely, though, the two-QB look is improving.
“And I don’t see that going away anytime soon,” Andersen said. “I think our ability to use that this year and moving forward is going to be even more of a vicious weapon as we continue to grow as an offense.”
Last week’s 26-24 win at Iowa was the most impressive outing yet for the quarterbacks.
McEvoy ran for 62 yards on six carries, including a 45-yarder for a score after a well-executed fake handoff to Gordon. Stave finished 11 of 14 for 139 yards.
The junior unexpectedly made one of the biggest plays with his feet. Stave scrambled 12 yards on third-and-8 for a first down late in the game to help secure the win.
This is quite the reversal of fortune for Stave, who lost his starting job to McEvoy in training camp.
To make matters worse, Stave developed a problem with this throwing motion that forced him to the sideline. Stave didn’t see action until relieving McEvoy during the 20-14 loss to Northwestern on Oct. 4.
Stave has been a starter ever since. Stave and McEvoy more frequently have alternated within a series.
“It’s one hell of a journey when you go back and start looking at that journey that that young man has been through,” Andersen said about Stave. “I’m so proud to see him get off that field with a smile on his face and really throughout the season as he’s got back to normal.”