Joel Stave entered the 2015 season amid some big time skepticism, and rightfully so after a season like the last one. However, the senior quarterback had 28 games of starting experience and lessons learned to build upon in the offseason.
Add in the hire of Paul Chryst as head coach, and there was serious reason for optimism that things could maybe turn around. Two games in and the skeptics have been quieted quite a bit, as Stave not only has managed the games pretty well, heâ€™s been the Badgersâ€™ whole offense at points.
It could be argued that Stave won Saturdayâ€™s game with Miami (OH) with his first half performance. Thatâ€™s especially true after Wisconsin saw two straight drives stall in the red zone thanks to a run game that was wildly ineffective. Following those two drives, the lightbulb switched on for Stave and so did the scoreboard for the Badgers.
Stave finished the game with 236 yards passing, but it was his 225 yards and three touchdowns in the first half that were the real story.
Just how good was that first half for Stave? He completed 17 of 27 passes for those 225 yards in the first half to help UW build a 37-0 lead. Not only that, but he continued his progression and chemistry building with his receivers, hitting seven different receivers before getting pulled in the third quarter of the Badgersâ€™ 58-0 blowout of Miami (OH).
Stave did not just lock in on Alex Erickson as his security blanket in this matchup. Instead, junior Rob Wheelwright stepped up to the plate and took the spotlight for the first time in his career.
Stave to Wheelwright netted a team-best six receptions for 79 yards and his first multi-touchdown game of his career.
It was also the first touchdown reception for Wheelwright that capped off Staveâ€™s showcase drive. After throwing a bad interception, Stave marched the Badgers down the field on a scoring drive late in the second quarter. In the drive he was 6-of-7 for 93 yards and most importantly, Stave hit five different receivers en route to an efficient two-minute drill for the veteran quarterback.
If ever there was a “classic Joel Stave drive,” it was that one, only this time it wasnâ€™t a one-time deal and was just par for the course over the last two weeks for the senior.
Whatâ€™s different so far in 2015 is that Stave has become a player this team can count on to help it win games and not just be a side show to the real show in the UW backfield.Â At least other teams have to respect the passing game, which is a nice change from a season ago.
Head coach Paul Chryst seems to know thereâ€™s a very high ceiling for Stave to reach to, and if these two games are just the tip of the iceberg, opposing defenses could be in some serious trouble the rest of the way.
“I thought he (Stave) did some good things, and every game there is going to be something that he can learn from,” said Chryst following the game. “I think he can put his ceiling pretty high, and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to — he wants to play to that and weâ€™ve got to coach to that.”
Two weeks in to the season and Stave has put a cork in a lot of his critics. If he can back these performances up with similar ones in Big Ten play, the Badgers could be scary good on offense this season.
Of course, thatâ€™s assuming the return of Corey Clement also means the return of UWâ€™s signature deadly run game…