Note: I drank as much as I could while staying coherent, then wrote my feelings. This probably won't be a regular thing, but I like to think it could be.
Joel Stave has already died a slow death. He looked like Wisconsin's best quarterback through spring and fall camps based on limited observation, but lacked the coaches' preferred skill set, and so he found himself locked in a months-long battle with Tanner McEvoy. Then apropos of nothing or something -- I don't fully accept that McEvoy was named the starter before Stave got the yips, but maybe that's me -- his wires got crossed.
On Saturday, Stave did a hard reboot before our eyes. He threw a horrendous interception in the fourth quarter -- rolling right for so long that most assumed he was readying to throw the ball away, then firing at Alex Erickson and hitting Godwin Igwebuike instead. When Wisconsin got the ball back, Stave found the end zone in two passes -- 24 yards to Sam Arneson, and 19 yards to Kenzel Doe on the best throw among any of the Badgers' 118 pass attempts this season.
That Was No Fun
That Was No Fun
This was Joel Stave amplified -- mercurial, incoherent and tuned to 11. Stave is our Wild Thing. He played like a mumbling drunk, answering "Why????" with "hyup, jus' 'cuz." For a guy playing after a 10-month layoff and a threadbare psyche, 8-of-19 for 114 yards, one touchdown and three picks feels about right. He wasn't good, but he also led Wisconsin to its only two touchdowns. He skipped a swing pass 2 yards short of the feet of his intended target, then later put a deep pass dead-on for what could have been a momentum-shifting play if there had been a nickel's separation between defensive back and wide receiver.
Yes, Stave died a slow death once, and on Saturday he looked like the only thing that could keep Wisconsin from suffering the same fate. Before Stave emerged, the blueprint to stopping the Badgers was simple: Stop Melvin Gordon, because Tanner McEvoy is powerless. Down 10-0 with a little more than three minutes remaining in the first half, Wisconsin punted after McEvoy threw three straight incomplete passes from the pocket. None of the attempts looked good, but bless him all the same. Bill Snyder has made Heisman contenders out of moosemen like McEvoy. Andy Ludwig hasn't studied an offensive innovation since Air Coryell.
With McEvoy at quarterback, Wisconsin bumbles to an 8-4 record, losing two of the three games you're worried about and winning every game you're not. It'd be an entirely predictably sort of mediocre. Every game would be what the Northwestern game was on its way to becoming -- a wait for Gordon to do something, anything. Like toe-tapping in the waiting room in the dentist's office. McEvoy wasn't horrid, he was just a non-entity. He made the right decisions, he just couldn't hit the open guys when he found them. You know the feeling: Like reading out-of-date magazines within four white walls, Wisconsin's offense went dumb watching short passes sail overhead.
Stave is the root canal specialist with an off-white coat in Algodones. He's half the price, probably qualified and he can see you right now. You can bench him if you want, but not after he has operated on the wrong side of your mouth and handed the other team two interceptions. Wisconsin's other choice is to let itself rot. You can choose agonizing meh, or you can choose chaos and the full spectrum of possibility.
I promise that you're going to hate this team no matter what. This is not a good Wisconsin team -- a veteran offensive line is soft, the receivers need seasoning, the defensive line is underpowered and the secondary needs babysitting. But with Stave at quarterback, this team is worth embracing, because even if the worse happens, at least it wouldn't die a slow death ... at least it would be interesting.