Stave shows youth, Groy experience in victory

first_imgRedshirt freshman Joel Stave struggled at times in Saturday’s game, going 7-of-15 for 106 yards while missing several open targets.[/media-credit]In a game that saw the Badgers earn their ninth consecutive victory against Minnesota in the annual border battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the offense continued its ascension back to its 2011 form despite shaky play at times from redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave.While the running game maintained its resurgence to the form of years past – both Montee Ball and James White finished with over 150 yards each and scored a combined five touchdowns – Stave and the passing game continued to leave questions for the coaches to solve as they head into a key home matchup with Michigan State Saturday.Since his insertion into the lineup at halftime against Utah State, Stave has adjusted to his new starting role nicely. Coming into Saturday’s game, he led the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a 149.6 rating, which also ranked fourth among freshman quarterbacks nationally. Stave averaged 9.4 yards per pass attempt, also tops in the Big Ten.Despite completing seven of his 15 passing attempts against Minnesota, Stave only threw for a total of 106 yards and did not throw a single touchdown pass. A sign of his youth and inexperience, Stave underthrew a number of passes, which against a better defense might have cost UW more than just an incomplete pass on the box score.Still, head coach Bret Bielema said the redshirt freshman will continue to grow and develop his skills as he gets more comfortable running the Badgers’ offense.“Joel is just learning how to be a quarterback,” Bielema said. “Some of those things, he has got to get rid of the football, but you coach well on Sundays for a guy like that.“We will point those things out for him. We don’t want him to mishandle the game … the good news is he’s a freshman.”Early in the second quarter, after Stave orchestrated a 38-yard drive down to the Minnesota 26-yard line, the Gophers sacked Stave twice in three plays for a loss of 20 yards, moving UW back to the Minnesota 43-yard line. Out of field goal range, Wisconsin was forced to punt the ball away.“One of them, I saw him coming and my foot slipped out on me there, but [I] can’t let that happen,” Stave said. “Especially in the red zone, I can’t get sacked and keep pushing the ball back and back like that. So I’ve just got to be smarter with it, throw it away.”While ultimately the drive would have no repercussions in the eventual outcome of the game, it would have given Wisconsin a vital cushion at a critical point in the game as the Badgers clung to a razor-thin 7-6 lead at the time.Groy fills in at left tackle for injured WagnerDespite Stave’s personal struggles Saturday, the offense as a whole appears to have hit its stride in recent weeks.After averaging only 16.3 points per game in its first two games, UW has posted 34.2 points per game since and scored at least 27 points in each of its last five games.Most recently with Ball, White and Melvin Gordon at the helm of a surging running game, an injury to senior left tackle Ricky Wagner during Wisconsin’s Oct. 13 matchup with Purdue meant switching junior Ryan Groy from left guard to left tackle to fill in for the injured Wagner.With the exception of right tackle, Groy has now played every position on the offensive line. It’s a fact Groy says made the transition to left tackle an easy one heading into Saturday’s game.“Left tackle was fun, it was something I was prepared for going into the week,” Groy said. “Ricky helped me out with a lot of things during film, and we executed well.”Arguably the most important player on Wisconsin’s offensive line, Wagner’s absence in the lineup posed questions as to whether the running game would be able to continue its recent trend of dominating performances.Overall, the offensive line limited costly mistakes – helping earn Wisconsin 337 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns – one of the only imperfections being the two sacks it allowed on Stave in the second quarter.“To have Ricky Wagner, probably our best offensive lineman, out of there and to be able to do those things … we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Bielema said. “But we wore them down.”Bielema said he does not know yet whether Wagner will be healthy to play against Michigan State, but for now Bielema and the Badgers are pleased with a big win in college football’s oldest rivalry.“I think we take a lot of pride in that,” Bielema said. “I learned that when I first came here … it’s a representation of a victory for an entire year.”Follow Nick on Twitterlast_img

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