I'm going to start this by saying: I am a huge Joel Stave apologist. You can't deny his faults, but I often feel like his criticisms are a bit more than he deserves. That said, he deserves almost all of the criticism he got during the first half against Maryland. Stave was 3-for-8 for 20 yards with an interception at halftime, and what should have been another one that should have resulted in a touchdown. There was little running game, and little help from his young line, but Stave didn't help matters either.
Under a previous coaching staff who shall remain nameless, the likely remedy for this problem would have been to feed Melvin Gordon the ball more, and abandon the pass. However, under Paul Chryst: Quarterback Whisperer, Stave rebounded well and thanks to some halftime adjustments, led the Badgers to a 31-24 win in College Park, Md.
Here's a pre-snap picture of Stave's interception:
Stave sees the slot defender in man coverage on redshirt senior wide receiver Alex Erickson, the same look he was given on the previous snap. On the snap before this, the slot defender blitzed, opening up the window that Stave is about to try to throw into. I don't know if he thought he was going to again, but he didn't. The linebacker simply drops into the throwing window and picks off the pass.
I understand the rationale by Stave here. It's only a two-man route, and he doesn't have much choice on the throw, but he's got to be able to pull off of the throw, or simply throw it into the ground and live to fight another down. It was only 2nd-and-10. Also, I can understand his urgency to fit the ball into Erickson here, as this was the second snap to this point that Erickson wasn't covered by Maryland's stud corner, Will Likely.
However, as low as Stave's pitfalls can be, his peaks can be just as high. As shown multiple times this year, he is a very resilient passer, not getting gun shy after making mistakes.
As simple as it may seem, protecting your quarterback goes a long way. This is the first big play in the passing game for Wisconsin in the game. On first down, Stave dropped back to pass and was finally protected. He excels on down the field throws, and giving him time to throw allows Erickson's route to develop.
Another thing that may seem odd, Stave likes throwing inside. A lot of college passers prefer to throw to the outside, by the numbers. This limits the number of defenders around the ball. Joel seems to thrive throwing in front of him. He hits Erickson in stride for 20 yards, finally easing up the pressure of the defense. Stave's long release is predicated on being protected and going down field, the offensive line gave him that on this play.
Here's another example of Stave delivering a nice ball while protected:
I know there's a lot going on here, so bear with me. This is an Erickson drop and a Dare Ogunbowale 2-yard run since our last pass. Maryland brings a safety blitz, signified by the lightning bolt. The offensive line again protects Stave, and with a nice clean pocket, he slings a nice ball to redshirt sophomore Jazz Peavy for 22 yards. Noticing that Erickson is covered by Likely (star), Stave smartly looks elsewhere, as Erickson has been unable to separate all game, as pictured in this shot. Left tackle Tyler Marz is able to hold off Maryland's best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, just long enough for the throw to get off. Again, with all of the mess in the middle of the field, Stave hits an in-breaking route in between the hashes. Also, it was good recognition by Joel to throw into the spot vacated by the blitzing safety.
The next play was a first and ten run by Taiwan Deal, and a completion to Troy Fumagalli for nine yards. This is the next play:
Here's another example of Stave excelling in throwing down the middle of the field. Another first down pass with a clean pocket, and Stave plays well. Redshirt senior Tanner McEvoy is the single receiver to the right of the formation, lined up on apparent target Sean Davis. He runs a deep dig route, and separates breaking in, and Stave connects down to the three yard line. Redshirt freshman right tackle Beau Benzschawel does a good job on Ngakoue, and the others provide a nice, clean pocket for Stave. First-and-goal, Badgers.
And finally, after establishing the pass and getting Joel in rhythm, some classic Wisconsin football is the payoff.
After loosening up the defense through the air, the Badgers come out in their inverted wishbone formation. The key to this play, is the use of Jacob Maxwell (star), normally a tackle that is wearing No. 84 for this game. His ability to wash down, and shorten the edge for Derek Watt to kick out the outside linebacker is huge. That allows the pulling Walker Williams (No. 62) and Austin Ramesh (No. 20) to clear out whatever else is there, and true freshman Alec Ingold walks into the end zone.
Ultimately the Badgers ended up edging out a win, but this drive was a huge way to set the tone for the rest of the game. When the Badgers can protect Stave, they allow themselves to dictate the tempo, and they can control games offensively even without the big play. Especially with the bye week coming, some much needed rest and time to get healthy is just what the doctor ordered.
As for Stave, his performances can be a bit of a roller coaster ride -- but ultimately, he's a fifth-year senior who's been through and gone through everything. He's currently third in the nation in active wins for quarterbacks, and is this team's leader. I tweeted this on Saturday, but it's visually evident how much the players respond to Stave. He's always had a calming demeanor, and it serves well on this overly young team. He's a two-star walk-on who's been up and away more than we could have asked for. I understand that he's often frustrating to watch, but when he's good, he's as good as almost any quarterback in the country. With two weeks to prepare for Northwestern, look for Stave to come out firing, and seeking revenge for the Badgers loss in Evanston a year ago.