Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
The UW quarterback must make enough plays in adverse situations, especially when opponents find a way to impede the Badgers' running game.
Through his first five starts, Joel Stave has been a solid starter for the Badgers considering he's just a redshirt freshman. He may not put up big numbers, but he's 4-1 as a starter and has just thrown three interceptions this season. However, lets take a closer at UW's opponents in that stretch.
The Badgers' narrow home victory came over a mediocre UTEP squad with a 2-6 overall record at this point in the season. After facing Nebraska, UW played Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. These schools currently own a combined 0-9 record in conference games and an overall record of 9-12.
Now, I'll give Stave credit for his performance at Nebraska, where he performed fairly well in a hostile environment in just his second start. But outside of that game, the Badgers' opponents under Stave have been pathetic, to say the least.
With teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State on the horizon, it will be much more difficult for the Badgers to sustain a powerful running game. I'm not saying those defenses will necessarily shut down Montee Ball and James White, but it'd be a shock if they run over them as they did against Purdue and Minnesota the past couple of weeks.
It'll be particularly interesting in the Michigan State game -- which, despite its record, still has an incredible front seven. If the Spartans slow the Badgers' rushing attack, Stave must rise to the occasion and make them pay by hitting receivers over the top.
At times, Stave has struggled with his pocket presence and his accuracy. He's had many opportunities to hit a wide-open man down field -- usually Jared Abbrederis -- and has either underthrown the pass or missed the wide receiver completely. After what appeared to be a slight step backwards versus the Gophers (7-15, 106 yards), Stave needs to find his way again and continue to progress each week. The challenges will only become greater for the Badgers down the stretch. If they want to have a legitimate shot to get back to a third consecutive Rose Bowl, Stave doesn't have to lead UW offensively, but he'll need to make big plays with his arm on a more consistent basis.
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