Over the past two decades, the Wisconsin football team has been known for having excellent running backs. From Ron Dayne to Montee Ball, Wisconsin relied on its ground attack to do damage. Combined with a formidable offensive line, the Badgers had no problem moving the ball on offense despite a tendency to have a mediocre quarterback.
This year the effect of the ground game has been even more profound. The Badgers have three running backs capable of carrying the load. Redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon has been discussed among the NCAA’s best, but senior James White and freshman Corey Clement have each contributed highlight reel plays and tough yards up the middle.
Through just five games, Wisconsin is sixth in the nation in rushing yards per game with an average of over 300. Badger backs even have the nation’s best yards-per-carry average with 7.5.
As in past years, the running game has been complimented by an inconsistent and ineffective passing attack. So, to nobody’s surprise, Redshirt sophomore Joel Stave struggled in his first four games. While he occasionally showed flashes of brilliance, he often looked lost. He failed to develop a rapport with his receivers, and alternated between underthrowing and overthrowing his intended targets.
However, Stave showed more than just the fleeting flash of brilliance in his outing against Ohio State two weeks ago. With Gordon and White stymied by the Buckeye defense, it was Stave that kept the Badgers in the game. He went 20-34 for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
While he did throw a crucial interception, Stave was effective and reliable throughout. He teamed with redshirt senior Jared Abbrederis for 207 of those 295 yards.
Stave’s performance against Ohio State demonstrated that he can do his part to command the offense just like Gordon or White. This perhaps will give Wisconsin a new offensive weapon for the remainder of the year. Having an efficient quarterback behind the line would force defenses to account for Stave, which would open up the field for any of the three strong running backs.
It is essential for Stave to develop a connection with the other receiving options besides Abbrederis to prevent defenses from zeroing in. Based on the underwhelming performances of the rest of the young corps so far, this could be a difficult task.
While the adjustments of the youthful receivers will take time, it is at least refreshing to know that Stave is on the same page with his top target. For Wisconsin, his ability to lead the offense could not have come any sooner.
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