LOS ANGELES -- Joel Stave is healthy. Doctors have cleared him to play in the 99th Rose Bowl Game. That puts Barry Alvarez and his coaching staff in an interesting situation. Curt Phillips has played admirably since he took over the signal-calling duties. But with Stave back in the fold, how much should the Badgers utilize his services?
I've gone back-and-forth with myself in trying to answer this question. At times, I think Wisconsin shouldn't even humor the idea of playing him for fear of disrupting the momentum created in Indianapolis. But ultimately, the fact is his arm is a weapon and the decision for Alvarez is an easy one: Stave needs to get his chances. And he will.
As Alvarez answered questions about Stave at Rose Bowl Media Day Saturday morning, he remained fairly tight-lipped. He did, nevertheless, display some obvious excitement about Stave's availability on Tuesday.
"He's definitely in the game plan," Alvarez said. "(Coach) Canada and I talked about that, Stave brings a little more to the table. He can throw the ball downfield; he brings a little more ammo."
Now to what extent Stave is in the game plan, nobody really knows outside of the coaching staff. But after watching a few of Stanford's games on film the past couple days, it's clear there will be opportunities to hit on big gainers against the Cardinal secondary. That unit is clearly the weak link in an otherwise vaunted defense.
Stanford has the 83rd-ranked pass defense in the country, allowing 251.2 yards a game through the air this season. Now if Wisconsin does elect to attack that weaker secondary, the offensive line will have to protect against the best pass rush in the nation. Stanford leads the country in sacks per game (4.31) and tackles for loss per game (9.23). Combine those stats with the fact the Cardinal has the third-best rush defense in college football, and that just begs for a post route pitch-and-catch between Stave and Jared Abbrederis to open up the field.
In six games started by Stave this year, Abbrederis has caught 30 balls for 565 yards and three touchdowns. In the four-and-a-half games the Badgers have played since Stave went down against Michigan State, Abbrederis has nine catches for just 118 yards and zero touchdowns. He's essentially been a non-factor down the stretch for the Badgers. That can't be the case on Tuesday.
Look, everyone and their mother knows Stanford is going to load the box with eight, even nine guys at times to stop Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon. If Wisconsin is to win the Rose Bowl, the ground game certainly has to be the foundation and the main reason why. But other options have to be there for the running back trio to do its full damage. Abbrederis and Wisconsin's other wideouts will be matched up in single coverage to make plays down the field, and to put it simply, Stave is the guy that can best take advantage of those opportunities.
I don't believe Alvarez will overdose on Stave's arm, but based purely on a hunch and reacting to the way he fielded questions about Stave this morning, I think we'll see more Sunshine than people expect on Tuesday.