By TONY CARTAGENA
Special to ESPNWisconsin.com
MADISON -In your best commentator voice play out this scenario---“Joel Stave takes the snap from center, hands it off to Melvin Gordon, Gordon breaks a tackle running right and powers into the end zone for a Badger Touchdown. Jack Russell rifles the extra point through the uprights.”
Coming out of fall camp, with Heisman trophy candidate Montee Ball at running back and highly touted transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien under center, the aforementioned scenario would have been considered far-fetched at best.
In light of recent events surrounding the Badger football program it has now become a scenario that Badger fans will grow accustomed too.
Last week Monday, two days after replacing O’Brien at halftime of the Utah State game, redshirt freshman Stave began taking practice reps with the No. 1 offense.
After scoring a touchdown during the second quarter of Saturdays win over UTEP, Ball left the game with an apparent head injury and was unable to return. The injury marks Ball’s second head injury in less than a two-month span. Melvin Gordon replaced Ball.
The rotational carousel did not stop there.
For the second week in a row kicker Kyle French botched a directional kick-off out of bounds, a penalty that gave UTEP the ball at the 35 yard-line. Next time the Badgers special teams crew came onto the field they were led by freshman kicker Jack Russell.
Three freshmen saw substantial playing time at key positions for the Badgers, an unusual sight for a team that usually thrives on veteran leadership. But here’s the kicker: they were good — really good — and in Gordon’s case showed flashes that border greatness, or at least the potential for greatness.
In his first career start the quarterback known as “Sunshine” completed 12-of-17 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. Stave connected to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis on two big plays, a 60-yard reception and a 47-yard touchdown.
“Jared is obviously a really good player, he’s fast and runs good routes,” Stave said. “We have a lot of trust that he’ll be able to get open, it’s really nice.”
The first three games this season Gordon saw minimal action at running back, but refused to “pout”.
“When you don’t get that many carries you got to make the best of them,” Gordon said in a post game interview. “You’ve got to run hard every run because you never know when that opportunity might present itself again.”
Gordon only had eight opportunities to run the ball out of the backfield in Saturday’s game but took advantage of every one, capping his afternoon with a 26-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
Gordon finished the game with just those eight carries but ran for 112 yards. He would have had 125 yards on the ground but after review on what looked to be a touchdown run, it became apparent Gordon stepped on the sideline at the 13-yard line.
“I just have to be more aware, more aware of my surroundings next time, but I’ll fix that,” he said.
Freshman Jack Russell converted 4-of-4 extra point attempts in his first collegiate game. He also kept the ball in play on multiple kick-offs, giving special teams defense a chance to pin the Miners deep in their own territory. One even led to a fumble and Badger recovery.
Saturday was not perfect, though, and there were some blemishes on the stat sheet. Stave threw an interception on an out route.
Russell (a right-footed kicker) missed a 33-yard attempt from the left hash.
“I just wasn’t good with my eyes,” Russell said. “I didn’t keep my eyes back so I lifted my head, swung around it and missed it left.”
The first four games of this season have left Badger fans, coaches, and players scratching their heads at times. It has been controversial and unconventional at time, but Saturday the Badgers finally found continuity. The offense racked up 423 yards of total offense and the team collected its first turnover - - albeit on special teams.
With the status of Ball up in the air, don’t be surprised if you hear the Stave, Gordon and Russell combination announced numerous times next weekend, and multiple weekends to follow.
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