Boy, you've got to hand it to this year's Wisconsin athletes. Three days after tearing the ACL in his left knee, Josh Gasser was back at practice last week, watching the Badgers continue their search for a point guard without him. Now, in the wake of a season-ending broken clavicle, Joel Stave needs to be told to take it easy while watching practice on the sideline.
Wearing a red Wisconsin hoodie and black warm-up pants with his left arm in a sling, the redshirt freshman met with the media on Monday for the first time since suffering the injury in the Oct. 27 loss to Michigan State. Stave detailed how after MSU defensive lineman William Gholston sacked him on the first drive of the third quarter, he immediately knew his clavicle was broken.
"Right when I got tackled, I could kind of hear it," Stave said. "I was able to touch it and feel a lump there, so I assumed it was a break."
That was just about an hour after head coach Bret Bielema shared in his weekly press conference that he's had to stop Stave from twirling a ball on the sideline and standing to close to the action during practice, signs that did also encourage Bielema.
"I'm like, ‘Buddy, you have a broken bone. Let's stay away from the action. Let's stay over to the side,'" Bielema said. "But he naturally just wants to be engaged. I think it's going to be a difficult thing.
So now, after going 4-2 in the first six career starts, Stave begins the arduous task of recovering to full strength. After Bielema said last week there was an outside chance he could return for Wisconsin's bowl game, Stave echoed that uncertainly. An x-ray scheduled for later Monday afternoon was expected to reveal how the shoulder is healing, which which will be the main factor in establishing a return date. Stave expects to be out of the sling in "a couple of weeks," though he will have to build up shoulder mobility and strength before returning to the field.
"If I could, I'd really like to be," Stave said of his chances for the bowl game. "I don't want to do anything stupid and press it and try to get back before I'm ready and just set myself back again. I trust what the doctor's telling me, and I know my body and when I'm feeling good."
Stave was certainly feeling good up until the third quarter of the MSU game. He had completed 9-of-11 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown, helping UW carry a 7-3 lead into the fourth quarter of what was probably his best start as a Badger.
For all the uncertainty that's limited Wisconsin's offense -- occasionally shaky line play has continued even after the Week 3 firing of Mike Markuson while the wide receivers still post underwhelming numbers -- Stave's apparent seizing of the starting quarterback spot was an undeniable bright spot. After a narrow, yet crushing, loss at Nebraska on Sept. 29, Wisconsin won three straight games behind Stave by outscoring opponents, 107-41.
His numbers -- a 59.3 completion percentage, 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions -- are hardly spectacular. But they are fairly solid for a freshman beginning his career in an offense experiencing unprecedented turmoil, and that makes the injury all the more frustrating.
"I learned a lot about him during that moment of the game," Bielema said. "He was very upset emotionally. I think it physically hurt him, but he also had tears of emotion. You don't ever want to see your players cry, you know what I mean? I knew how much it went to him not to be out there. I think it's good for our players to see that, as well."