MADISON -- Coming into Wisconsin's first game vs. LSU, most onlookers were under the impression the Badgers would use two quarterbacks until one solidified himself as the clear-cut starter. Then came Joel Stave's "yips" issue where Gary Andersen later said that Stave wasn't even an option in the season opener and Bart Houston would have been the backup if needed.
After a few weeks with Tanner McEvoy burning teams on the ground but struggling to connect with his receivers through the air came a shift in the way the offense would run. Following continued struggles in the first half through the air at Northwestern, Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig decided to re-enter Stave.
Before being benched at Northwestern, McEvoy was 55-of-96 (57.3 percent completion rate) for 629 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions. Most of that production was against FCS opponent Western Illinois, where McEvoy was 23-of-28 for 283 yards and three touchdowns.
Since taking over in the Northwestern game, Stave has been the starter but the team has gone with a two-quarterback system. This season, Stave is 31-of-64, completing 48.4 percent of his passes with 423 yards passing. He has also found the end zone three times through the air and thrown three interceptions.
The Badgers haven't lost any of the three games in which they operated with both QBs, prompting Ludwig to stick with what works. The system has allowed for the Badgers to pose somewhat of a threat through the air, going 33-of-61 (54.1 percent) in those games and throwing for 400 yards with two touchdowns.
On Wednesday, Ludwig said that he thinks the two-quarterback system has worked well and has fueled competition in practice.
"There's challenges in everything you do," he said. "You're just trying to put guys in a position to help the football team win. We're doing the best we can, as are the quarterbacks. I think they're responding real well to the situation. Both guys want to be the full-time guy.
"Right now we feel, for the good of the football team, they both have skill sets that we want to utilize and try to help us win football games."
Ludwig said that in preparing for upcoming games each week, he and Andersen discuss the quarterback situation before Ludwig lets Andersen know who will start and how many series he can expect each quarterback to play. Ludwig also says that each quarterback knows exactly how much playing time to expect each game.
"I talk about it with coach Andersen through the course of the week, saying, ‘Hey, it's going to be this quarterback starting and [the starter is] going to get this amount of series and then [the other quarterback] is going to come in and get one or two series based on how it goes,'" Ludwig said. "We roll with it from there.
"There's no surprises. The guys know what's coming up before the game starts. We talk between every series and they've done a nice job of it."
While the coaching staff feels that the adjustment has been smooth for the quarterbacks, they haven't always felt the same. Both Stave and McEvoy said the real struggle is getting into the right mindset while waiting for their turn.
"[The system is] a lot different," McEvoy said. "You just got to take what's thrown at you and make the best of the situation. I'm aware of when I am going to go in, so I kind of relate it back to practice. You have to be ready whenever your number is called."
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The system is also a new concept for the two quarterbacks involved. Stave said that he has never previously been a part of the system. Because of this, both he and McEvoy feel there is still room for improvement in it.
"Throughout this whole year, I wouldn't say looking over your shoulder, but you're aware that you're not the only one playing quarterback," Stave said. "You know if I screw up, they might go with the other guy, so you don't want to focus on it, but it's always in the back of your mind.
"When you're not on the field, you have to stay in it mentally. When you're in, you gotta make the plays that you can and control what you can control. It's a little different. It's just different in that you're not taking every series and then coming off when there's a punt."
Now that Wisconsin has a semblance of a passing game, Stave says that he is seeing defenses stack the box less than when he first took over. Opposing safeties aren't playing as close to the line of scrimmage, allowing for the Badgers to open up the game on the ground.
"We don't need to be so concerned with the safeties being so low in the box," Stave said. "When they start bringing safety pressure and bring those guys lower, that is when we need to be able to take those shots over the top and land them and be a balanced offense."
While the Badgers have been riding high as of late, the toughest part of their schedule remains with road tests against Purdue and Iowa, as well as home games vs. Nebraska and Minnesota.
Wisconsin still controls its own destiny. If the Badgers win out, they'll earn a trip to Indianapolis to face the winner of the Big Ten East and the opportunity to play in a New Year's Day bowl game. The dual-quarterback system will certainly be a key factor in determining whether that possibility comes to fruition.