Prospectivetorium: Reassessing Joel Stave

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Why are we doing another Joel Stave thinkpiece? Because when a quarterback shows inconsistency, there is no chill.

I'm a Joel Stave guy. You should know this by now. The read from most of the Wisconsin fans seems to be treating him like he made Allen Everidge look like Scott Tolzien. And that's neither fair nor true. In fact, Stave through nine games was looking very Tolzien-esque.

You know, junior-year Tolzien.

COMP/ATT COMP % YDS AVG TD INT
JOEL STAVE (nine games in 2013) 149/229 65.1 1,826 8.0 16 8
SCOTT TOLZIEN (2009) 211/328 64.3 2,705 8.2 16 11

But here's the thing. I'm not going to come to you and say that Stave's final three games amounted to a good effort. He completed passes at a 53 percent clip and had 6.25 yards per attempt ... and the interceptions. You guys don't much cotton for all that arm-punting, do you?

Anyway, I'm going to see if I can't find any statistical point (outside of the last three games) where Stave is playing at a suboptimal level (all thanks to cfbstats.com). Because I think Stave can be the guy, and I think it's time to see if there's something more for him to work on than touch and, as people said when Brett Favre was under center, "just being a kid and having fun out there."

What's gone right?

1. Third down

Stave's big situational weakness in 2012 was third down. Granted, it didn't take until after Jacob Pedersen returned from a knee injury after the Northwestern game before Stave could trust a second downfield receiving threat. But man, not completing 40 percent of passes and throwing all your interceptions when you're on third down isn't very sweet.

Now, he didn't show star quality on third down this year, but he definitely improved by leaps and bounds. His 54.5 completion percentage is still one that needs improvement. But his 614 yards, six touchdowns and 14 completions of 15 yards or more were all above the average college quarterback.

(We'll discuss the matter of his five third-down interceptions later.)

2. The second half

Stave may have been the Badgers' best chance for winning last season, but the fact of the matter is he struggled when defensive coordinators had a chance to adjust to the plans of the previous administration. Forty-eight percent completion percentage and 6.5 yards per attempt. Not great, right? He's got it up to 60.7 percent. Which, again, is below average. But he was also was above-average in terms of yardage (1,182), touchdowns (eight) and completions of 15 yards or more (27).

3. The red zone

Trivia question: How many touchdowns did Stave throw in the red zone in 2012? Go to Google. I'll wait.

Did you solve it? He had zero. In fairness, the previous administration had the trust to give him seven attempts for 10 yards. A sparkling 1.43 yards per attempt.

This year? 60 attempts, 15 touchdowns. In fact, he's one of the stronger passing quarterbacks in the red zone. He was 31st nationally in completion percentage, tied for 15th in yardage, tied for 14th in touchdowns and eighth in first downs. Strong stats, yeah? But here's where you're going to say, "Hey buddy, remember who the running backs are?"

It may be gauche to answer a question with a question, but here we are. How many picks did he throw in the red zone? Go ahead, Bing your Googles. I'll wait.

Zero. Stave did not end a drive in the red zone with an interception. The running game may have given him some opportunities that most wouldn't have. But Stave did not mess it up when they told him to pass in one of the hardest places to pass on the field.

Okay. I get it. You're penning your comments now. Some of you are already like "S AND B NATION NEEDS TO STOP THIS MONSTER FROM TELLING ME WHO TO LIKE AND I DON'T KNOW WHERE HE LIVES SO I CANNOT WASH HIS DAMN TOWELS."

One of you may have sent it. Anyway. There's a reason why the argument about Stave is still open. And I will attempt to give equal time to that one.

Though there will be no more proclamations to wash my damn towels.

The case against

1. Pedersen came back strong

A part of the reason I was so vehement about the need to relax about Stave early in the season was the fact that there was no second vertical option. Jared Abbrederis and James White, that was it. Then Pedersen got back from the knee injury, and in the eight games he played, he actually rivaled the season he had in 2012.

REC YDS TD
2013 JACOB PEDERSEN (post-knee injury) 28 399 2
2012 JACOB PEDERSEN 27 355 4

So in a nutshell, this should have made the passing game better. You know, more efficient. And as we've established, It did not.

2. The touch question

We can agree that Stave's pass protection wasn't the best in the country and that caused some of his passes to sail. You may not know that even despite the last three games, Stave was over the mendoza line of 60 percent that was the difference between average and below-average accuracy. But the fact of the matter is it's a lot easier to be accurate when you have a James White you can swing the ball out to and gain confidence and have a high-percentage completion with.

I mean, look at the situations where he improved. What was the theme? He had a below-average completion percentage. So I'll agree with you. He needs to get that accuracy up. He throws a pretty deep ball, and White was always a consistent completion. But yeah, that touch thing needs improvement.

3. Clutch interceptions

The interceptions. Oh, those interceptions. I'm going to throw a lot of numbers at you right now. Get ready.

  • He threw five third-down interceptions, and three of them were in situations where an average run from Melvin Gordon or White would have kept the drive alive.
  • Eight of the 12 interceptions came when the Badgers were a score ahead or a score behind.
  • 10 of the 12 interceptions came when the Badgers were between their own 21- and 39-yard lines, or on the march in between their opponents' 39 to 21.

So in terms of interceptions, he had a propensity to be extra frustrating with them. No real further comment. Just letting the numbers speak for themselves.

Okay, you've gone through roughly 1,100 words and a couple of YouTube clips to get to this point. Where are we with Stave? Well, I'm still on board. And let me tell you why.

Because while Stave was an inconsistently slightly above-average quarterback with a pretty deep ball during the season, he also lasted wire-to-wire as the starting quarterback. Now, I know some of you think that Bart Houston or Tanner McEvoy will be back in the quarterback competition next year, and they might be.

But there have been three drop-back passers in the modern era of Badger ball that have had the opportunity to return after being the starter wire-to-wire the season before. All three improved their completion percentages by at least seven percent in the following season.


FIRST FULL SEASON AS A STARTER COMP % NEXT SEASON'S COMP %
DARRELL BEVELL 1992 51.0 67.8
JOHN STOCCO 2004 52.6 60.1
SCOTT TOLZIEN 2009 64.3 72.9

Is this an indicator that Stave might make the leap? Of course not. Past performance is not an indicator of future results, plus all three targets that he threw to on the regular aren't coming back.

But what it does indicate is that there's a chance that this isn't his ceiling. That if there's a different quarterback under center against LSU next year, he's going to have to beat him beyond a shadow of a doubt, because the story of Stave isn't going to close at the Capital One Bowl.

And some of you just might be proven wrong.

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